How To Protect Your PC

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Commerce Department found that since 2001 the department's 15 operating units had lost track of 1,137 laptop computers. Most, 672, belonged to the Census Bureau. Of those, 246 contained personal information.

The recent cases of government agencies losing laptops has put the issue on cyber security in the spotlight. How can you keep your computer safe?

Why might my computer be at risk?

Although viruses are still somewhat of a problem, they've taken a back seat to other threats including spyware, keystroke-loggers and other ways bad guys can invade your privacy, steal your identity and hack into your computer, according to CBS News technology consultant Larry Magid.

Another change over the last few years is that an increasing number of people are using wireless networks. So now in addition to worrying about your computer, you have to worry about bits and bytes that are floating through the air.

Then there's the ever-increasing use of the Internet for banking, travel, shopping, and communications and just about everything else we do these days. In almost every case, this means typing in passwords, credit card numbers, and in some cases even Social Security numbers.

Click here to check out Larry Magid's podcast with Trend Micro president Lane Bess, discussing PC threats and protections.
How can I protect my computer from identity theft?
Often used to store financial records, tax returns, photos and other personal information, your computer is a treasure trove for an identity thief.

You should update your virus software regularly and not open unfamiliar e-mail attachments, since viruses can create backdoors for hackers to steal information from your PC.

Also, make sure your browser, such as Internet Explorer or Netscape, is updated with the latest encryption software so that information you send over the Internet is secure.


When giving an account number online, the URL on the address bar at the top of your screen should read "https" or "shttp," not "http," and an icon at the bottom of your screen may change from a broken key to a complete one, or an open lock to one that is closed. This means the information is being transmitted securely.

Before doing business with an unfamiliar company, check with your local consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau to see if they have been reported. Some scammers set up fake Web sites designed to steal your personal information. If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

If you fear you've been a victim of identity theft, how can you get a free credit report?

Consumer Reports recommends getting a report from each credit bureau every few months.

To access a free guide to deciphering credit reports, visit Another great Web site is Consumers can also access free credit reports at – a government Web site. All three major credit bureaus are on the site, and each one has to give you one free report a year., however, does not give you scores, only access to the reports. For $45, you can get scores and reports from all three agencies.

To learn more about how to protect your computer:

• If you think you've been the victim of identity theft, you can call the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT to report suspected cases.

• Click here for an interactive full of facts on viruses and other computer menaces, as well as security tips and a timeline of virus attacks.

• Click here to read the top ten spam subject headers.

CBS News technology consultant Larry Magid has answers to many of your PC questions here.