These tips can help protect the computers you use for school from viruses, hackers, spyware, and other attacks.

1. Perform basic computer safety maintenance

Before you surf the Web, you should perform three key maintenance steps to help improve the computer's security. Visit Protect your computer in 4 steps and follow the steps online to:

Use an Internet firewall.

Update your computer.

Use up-to-date antivirus software.

Use up-to-date antispyware software.

2. Don't open files from strangers

E-mail and instant messaging (IM) can spread viruses and worms if you aren't careful. (Most e-mail viruses are spread by people who are tricked into opening an infected file.)

You should never open a file attached to an e-mail or an instant message unless you recognize the sender and you are expecting the file.

For more information on helping to avoid viruses, visit Help avoid viruses that spread through e-mail attachments, 5 reasons to use Windows Live OneCare to help protect your computer, and Instant messaging safety and privacy tips.

3. Help fight spam and online scams

You can use technology to help keep junk e-mail from deluging your screen. To see how, read Help keep spam out of your inbox.

Phishing is another threat to your privacy that could lead to the theft of your credit card numbers, passwords, account information, or other personal data. To learn more, read Recognize phishing scams and fraudulent e-mails.

4. Learn how to protect yourself from spyware

If your Web browser has been taken over by pop-up ads, or there are toolbars on your computer that you didn't download intentionally, your computer might be running spyware.

Spyware is software that collects personal information from you without first letting you know what it's doing, and without asking for your permission.

You might get spyware if you download music or file-sharing programs, free games from sites you don't trust, or other software programs from a suspicious Web site.

If your computer is running Windows Vista you have spyware protection built-in. Learn more by reading What is spyware?

5. Take precautions when you go wireless

Many high school and college campuses have wireless networks, so you can surf the Web in the library, cafeteria, or a classroom.

These networks are convenient, but they do come with a security risk. If you set up your own wireless network at home or in your dorm room, read Windows Vista Features Explained: Wireless Networking or Improve the secuirty of your wireless home network with Windows XP and pay special attention to the section on wireless network security. Also read Use public wireless networks more safely to get more tips on WiFi security.

6. Password protect your computer—and lock it

Passwords are the first line of defense in protecting your computer from criminals, pranksters, or a careless roommate. If you don't use a password to log on to your computer, anyone can access your computer and unlock it.

Use our tips for building stronger passwords now, and be sure to lock your computer when you're not using it.

(To "lock" your Windows computer, hold down "Windows logo key + L." Follow the instructions on the screen to unlock your computer when you're ready to use it again.)

7. Back up your work

The image of students losing their term papers because they forgot to back up their work has almost become a cliché. Still, many of us don't have the time to back up.

If you use Windows Vista read Windows Vista Features Explained: Complete PC Backup. If you use Windows XP, you can let the Backup Utility do the work for you. To find out how, read Windows XP Backup Made Easy or try Windows Live OneCare, which offers easy backup and restore.

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