Essential PC security tips (send to your parents)

Flickr user Rowan Collins

(MoneyWatch) There's an old XKCD comic that contends that hackers aren't as likely to crack your complex password as they are to simply hit you with a wrench until you divulge the password. The point: You'll be compromised in the simplest way possible, and probably in a way you're not expecting.

These days, the greatest risk to online security is someone getting you to voluntarily, if inadvertently, give up confidential information. Recently, tech site MakeUseOf listed some great tips for ensuring that doesn't happen to you:

Use more than one email account. It's convenient to have a single email address for all of your correspondence, but concentrating all of your social networking, newsletters, personal mail, and financial messages in a single account is asking for trouble. If that account gets hacked, you might lose everything. It's a reasonable precaution to operate several accounts and to keep all of your banking and financial emails going to a separate account that doesn't get any other traffic. And these days, since you can aggregate multiple accounts and see them in your inbox all at once with most mail programs, that's not really an inconvenience.

Use separate passwords for all Websites. I've given you this advice before, and it's still just about the best security advice ever. Don't use the same password for your email account, social media accounts and banking. It's just that simple. You don't want to find that someone has compromised your LinkedIn account and then used that same password to hack your PayPal account. Don't forget that even if you use different passwords for all of your various accounts, you can use LastPass or RoboForm to automatically remember all your passwords for you.

Don't open attachments or click links in email. This is sweeping advice, so I always advise following this in moderation. Obviously, if you're expecting an attachment or a link from someone, it's fine to use it. And if you get an unexpected attachment or link from someone you know, you can generally use common sense to know if it's safe. Hover over the link, for example, and see if the pop-up matches the text in the mail. If they are different, it might be malicious. And don't open an attachment if the tone of the email is uncharacteristic or nonsensical; the sender's account might have been hacked.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Rowan Collins

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