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How can I protect my laptop from intrusion?

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David answers all questions, including those on acting, advertising, Internet scams, music, podcasting, radio, sound, television, voiceovers, the Web, and on Macintosh, UNIX and Windows computers.

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(called via 1-800-39-ONLINE; click to listen to the audio)

Hello...my name is Eve.

I'd like to know how to protect my wireless laptop from intrusion.

If you'd let me know, I'd appreciate it.

Thank you!


Locking down your wireless laptop is a combination of up-to-date software, some precautions when in open spaces and good computing practices.

I wouldn't worry too much about the potential of someone grabbing your data out of the air - if you're using the right network and are going to sites that use up to date security, there's not much anyone could do with the encrypted data they might capture.

First, make sure your browser is completely up to date, with the latest security updates and bug fixes. Using an older browser that is susceptible to known hacks is a risk you don't want to take.

Next, make sure you have a good firewall in place. Steve Gibson, at GRC.com, recommends both Zone Alarm and Kerio. And he knows what he's talking about. You can get both of them at CNET's Downloads.com. They're free:

Also, be sure to have run your anti-spyware routines every day before using your computer for the first time. You can find more information on what I recommend for anti-spyware software for Windows by reading another question I've answered:

Next, make sure when you log on to a network that you're logging on to a secure network and that you're not piggybacking onto someone's open network - they might very well be looking for you to do so, and be running software that can capture your keystrokes.

Read on... (more ahead)

Don't be at all embarrassed about forming a physical "security zone" around yourself. Try to put your back to a wall, away from prying eyes of neighbors in the booth or seats next to you. Try for a corner, facing windows and the door. If the place is packed, consider another venue - the throughput will be lower, and wandering eyes are more plentiful in busy places.

Lower the brightness on your screen to the lowest level you can that lets you read things on the screen, but doesn't give eagle-eyes around you high contrast to see what your're typing.

In addition, consider investing in a laptop privacy screen that lets you see what you're doing but prevents people looking from the side from seeing anything:

When entering your passwords to gain access to anything, first take a glance around you to see if anyone is looking in your direction, or holding up a mirror, or taking pictures or videos. You'd be surprised what can be sussed out by slow motion playback.

Usually, banking and other secure web activities are just fine to do, as they add an additional layer of protection via SSL, or online encryption.

Just be aware of what's going on around, take reasonable steps to protect your computer, and don't jump onto unknown open networks, and you'll be fine.

Thanks for listening, and for calling in and asking!

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