Computers are state-of-the-art tools that can help people manage finances in increasingly sophisticated ways. Particularly with software applications like Excel, Quicken and Microsoft Money, consumers can really get a grip on their finances.
But these tools can also contain hidden security problems, particularly as increasing numbers of people link their computers to the Internet using high-speed broadband and wireless connections. Such "always-on" connections can provide a dangerous back door to hackers and cyber-criminals, who can steal or destroy your personal financial data.
"Home PC users are depending more and more on their computers for personal business and remote access to corporate resources," said Andy Groome, a security strategist for SAS Institute Inc., a software company specializing in business intelligence, based in Cary, N.C. "This makes the home PC a desirable target for a hacker, both in terms of the information stored on the PC and as a jumping-off point with privileged access to your place of business."
New Viruses Released
In 2004 alone there will be an estimated 46,000 new viruses released on the Internet, experts said. People who leave their computers connected to a broadband device can expect to have between 150 and 200 scans done each day on their systems in an attempt to find security holes, and two to three serious hacking attempts a day on their computer resources, said Michael Higgins, managing director for TekSecure Labs, a division of Tekmark Global Solutions, a New Jersey-based technology solutions and engineering company.
Further, some 86 percent of computer users said they kept sensitive information on their hard drives while nearly 80 percent said they used their computers to conduct sensitive transactions online, according to a study conducted in May 2003 by the National Cyber Security Alliance, a partnership between the federal government and private companies. What's more, the study showed that 62 percent of computer users have not bothered to update their anti-virus software, and a whopping 91 percent had viruses called "spyware" lurking on their systems.
In order to secure your computer, it's helpful to know what the threats are. Following are some of the major security concerns:
Virus: a piece of malicious software code that enters your system by piggybacking on another program, such as an e-mail attachment or spreadsheet. When you open the attachment or the spreadsheet, the virus is activated and replicates. In the case of an e-mail virus, it reproduces and sends itself to the people in your address book. Viruses can corrupt files on your hard drive or destroy them.
Trojan Horse: Similar to a virus, it is also a piece of code that sneaks into your system disguised as something else, like a game or a link on a Web site, hence its name. Trojan horses can also corrupt or destroy files.
Worm: These are also pieces of malicious code that exploit security holes in your operating system. They are less severe than viruses, but lurk in your hard drive and replicate, sending out more worms to other computer users with the same security holes. Experts caution that worms can be combined with Trojan horses to get a more severe attack.