Simple ways to protect yourself from botnets

(MoneyWatch) Even as the volume of spam in our inboxes appears to be receding, other threats are looming. According to cyber-security company Kaspersky, for example, about 200,000 new malware samples are appearing in the wild every day. And last year, a staggering 91 percent of businesses experienced some sort of IT security event.

Perhaps the most frightening statistics are related to the rise of botnets. Stuxnet -- the first known state-engineered cyber-weapon -- was uncovered in 2010, and since then about a half-dozen more have been found. Gartner's Research Director, Lawrence Orans, contends that as many as 5 percent of corporate PCs and 30 percent of home computers are already infected.

Most of us -- at home nor at work -- have the resources of an enterprise class IT department to protect our computers and data. So is there any hope for protection? Indeed, there is. As I recently explained in a blog post for eHow Tech, you can mitigate a vast amount of your risk by following five simple and inexpensive security rules:

Upgrade to a 64-bit OS. Most malware can only deal with 32-bit versions of Windows, so upgrading to 64-bit Windows 7 or Windows 8 automatically insulates you from most malicious software automatically.

Upgrade your browser. Many security experts recommend Chrome, but even switching to Internet Explorer 9 or 10 can dramatically improve your security posture.

Use strong passwords. No, passwords can't protect you from all malware, no matter how strong they happen to be. But this is a first line of defense you can't afford not to take.

Patch your software. Some of the biggest security threats -- such as Office and Adobe Reader, not to mention Windows itself -- are easily patchable. Keep all of your software updated regularly. In 2010, the Aurora Botnet ravaged a slew of companies, including Google, Adobe, and Yahoo. Microsoft was unscathed, mainly because the company takes the elementary precaution of keeping all of its corporate-managed PCs fully patched.

Keep everyone educated. Whether you manage your home network or a small office, make sure everyone who uses PCs knows security best practices, such as not falling for phishing mail and using unique passwords on all websites.