It’s helpful to view the three main data protection components as three legs of a stool: if you’re missing any of the legs, your protection will collapse and you will put your data at risk.
So what are these three important legs?
The first leg: antivirus software.
Most of you already know what antivirus software is and use it on your computers; a recent survey indicated that over 80% of computer users use some kind of antivirus software.
And most people have heard of the second leg: firewalls.
These keep our computers safe from outside attacks. Most big companies spend a fortune making sure they have reliable firewalls in place to keep their proprietary data secure from hackers.
But it’s the third leg of computer protection that is quickly becoming an indispensable part of computer security: a VPN, or virtual private network.
That’s why it’s surprising that so many people choose to work without a VPN. They do so at their peril, because the damages from not using a VPN may far outweigh the risks of the other two combined.
Antivirus Software: Protecting us from a Bunch of Bad Things
So what does antivirus software (such as Norton, McAfee or AVG) actually do? Basically, it locates and deletes computer viruses, computer worms, Trojan horses, spyware, and adware from our computers.
Viruses, worms, and Trojan horses are malicious pieces of software (usually attached to other seemingly innocent pieces of software) that can delete or destroy your data, steal your information (such as usernames and passwords), or install unwanted software on your computer.
Spyware is software that can record your computer activity (such as your keystrokes when you login to various online accounts), and adware is software that displays unwanted online ads on your computer.
(There is a special level in hell for those who create adware!)
Since most of us have suffered from some or all of these kinds of computer problems, we know how important it is to install some sort of antivirus protection on our computer and keep it up to date.
Always check your antivirus protection and make sure it’s running at optimal strength.
Firewalls: Controlling What Gets In and Out of Our Computer
Okay, so antivirus software is pretty straightforward. What about firewalls?
You probably have it installed on your computer but you may not completely understand what it does. That same survey I mentioned above indicated that nearly 65% of computer users have some sort of firewall software installed on their computer.
There are two basic kinds of firewalls:
- Hardware firewalls are often called network firewalls because they are external boxes sitting between the Internet and your computer. Hardware firewalls are usually integrated in broadband routers, which means that you can connect to the Internet and share the connection with other computers without any risk from hackers breaking into your computer.
- Software firewalls, or personal firewalls, are software programs that control the flow of traffic to and from your computer and either permit or deny communications. Some operating systems, such as Windows, include a built-in firewall (be sure it’s enabled!). You can also buy additional firewall software for better protection, or download free versions.
In any case, you probably have heard of firewalls and are probably using one on your home computer. If you’re not, you should immediately turn on any built-in firewall, and possibly research additional software if you want maximum protection.
VPN: The Most Important Security Component of Them All
I believe that a VPN might be the most important security component for any computer user who ever uses a public WiFi network.
A VPN — like PRIVATE WiFi™ — is software that secures and privatizes data across the Internet by building an “encrypted tunnel.” When you access the Internet, your data passes through this tunnel which protects it from anyone who tries to intercept it.
Why is a VPN the most important security component of them all, even more important that antivirus software and a firewall? If a virus infects your computer or we don’t use a firewall and someone accesses our files, it can be a headache to fix, and may cost us some time and perhaps a little money to fix the problem.
But if a hacker steals your identity because you’re not using a VPN when accessing a public WiFi network, it could cost thousands of dollars and years of effort to restore and safeguard your identity. Plus, the nightmare that is identity theft can wreck your credit score. Damages from not using a VPN far outweigh the risks of the other two combined.