GUEST ESSAY: Best practices checklists each individual computer user still needs to follow

By Peter Stelzhammer

In the days of non-stop attacks on personal and work devices, the common day consumer wouldn’t know where to begin in order to protect their devices.

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The rise of attacks is unavoidable and with the everyday announcement of a new strain of malware, ransomware and now data wipers, consumers find themselves asking: where do I start? How do I do this?

Whether you are focused on your home computer, work laptop or business operating system as a whole, it’s important to learn the key steps you can take to ensure your defenses are active and up to date.

Update checklist

•Use and keep your security software (i.e. anti-virus program) up to date and turned on. Many users switch off their real-time protection to gain some speed, but safety should come before. We strongly recommend making sure that you use the latest version of the anti-virus software, and for that matter of any software that you are using on your computer. Newest versions come with improved and additional features to enhance software capability.

•Keep your firewall turned on. Software based firewalls are widely recommended for single computers, while hardware firewalls are typically provided with routers for networks. Some operating systems provide native software firewalls (such as Windows OS). For Microsoft Windows home users we recommend using the firewall in its default settings.


•Always perform the updates of your OS. If you use the Internet on your computer, then it is connected to the widest network there is – the World Wide Web. Since the WWW is a dynamical space, operating systems permanently adapt to threats by releasing updates and patches that fix the eventual bugs, glitches or vulnerabilities that can prove to be exploited by attackers and become security holes. Thus, it is important to keep your OS up to date, as most new exploits are rendered inefficient by an updated system.

•Keep third party applications (like e.g. Java,  Adobe Acrobat Reader, browsers, etc.) up to date

Third party applications are programs written to work within operating systems but produced by individuals or companies other than the provider of the operating system. These can be browsers, e-mail clients, plugins (such as multimedia plugins for online streaming/gaming, or plugins for reading certain types of files). Since most of them are acting in the Internet environment, it is crucial that they always stay up to date and patched, because cyber-felons use vulnerabilities in older/unpatched versions to get control of your system.

Backup checklist

Backup is essential in case of data loss caused by malware attacks or malfunctions. Operating systems will attempt to recover system data through features such as System Recovery (Windows), but this procedure does not cover files or third-party software. Therefore, we recommend using one or more of the following backup methods:

•Backup on a third-party device such as mobile hard drive, CD, USB storage device, flash drive, etc. These should be precisely labelled as to contents and date and stored securely. Three securely guarded generations of copies to the critical/important data (referred to as generational backup) are recommended: grandfather/father/son. You should take time to identify the important/critical data stored on your computer and proceed accordingly with the backup.

•Backup on a remote location, on a verified secure server. You can do this directly or via

•You should perform backups regularly (at least every three months as a rule or with every change you make, for critical data). Take the time to test the restoration process from the back-up copy. Even though you spend some time doing this, remember the alternative of losing all your data.

•Additionally, consider using an imaging software to make regular backup images of your system.

About the essayist: Peter Stelzhammer co-founded AV-Comparatives in 1999 as a joint student project at the University of Innsbruck.  AV-Comparatives is an independent organisation offering systematic testing to examine the efficacy of security software products and mobile security solutions.

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