Safeguard your personal data – Buy a new system for your finances

Having two or more systems

We’ve all been using one system as our main tool to play, work, do banking, write reports, … etc.. for a number of years now, but slowly I’m coming to the realization: this is not the most secure way to handle things, if you download a new game or driver, you risk compromising not just your games by inadvertently installing spyware or a worm or a virus, but also you also expose your entire online or virtual life. Perhaps even your personal identity is at risk, too!

So, buy two PCs.

Separating your PCs may be the simplest and most effective way, though, to prevent data breaches: for example, use one PC for general browsing and one PC for secure browsing only (not email). The primary machine you can use for non-secure transactions and every day life, while the secondary PC is set up for your financial and personal information (like wills, finances, reports..) ONLY. Just make sure you don’t logon to your personal information on the primary system!

Virtual or REAL PC?

With windows, it’s possible (though tricky) to install an entirely new partition of Windows on your disk. So it is possible to set up a ‘virtual PC’ … in fact, Microsoft have been giving away versions of its own Virtual PC. You may get away with installing a virtual PC INSIDE your current PC. Both of these are affordable, and viable, ways to handle your data, though neither of these is as absolutely secure as purchasing a second machine.

If you purchase a secondary machine (for financial reasons), you will need to make sure that you can isolate the computer in a number of ways:

  1. Add only the MINIMUM of software you need to access and use your financial data – secure browser, any banking software and security protocols, a version of OFFICE (or whatever), AV software, and anti-spyware software, too. Avoid using email on this system (though browser-based email may be okay) to remove the risk of infected attachments getting on your system.
  2. Avoid networking the system with other computers in your home, so you can avoid infiltration from another system that is already compromised, (if you can). You may still need to share the internet connection, though, so you will need to arrange a suitable firewall.
  3. Make sure that other people in your house DO NOT and CANNOT use the system for OTHER purposes. Ensure that they understand this PC is ONLY for financial and personal information. Do not be tempted to let them use it for anything else.
  4. You will need to make sure that there few ways to put data on the system to minimize possible transmission routes: Avoid getting a CD-Rom if possible, a 3.5″ disk or similar device. Restrict yourself to data forms that you are sure are already secure, if you decide to use portable media. Of course, minimizing the media options will also cause you inconvenience when it comes to backing up data.
  5. Keeping your PC uptodate with patches and updates will be a somewhat inconvenient and necessary step, too, for all OSes. Believing that you have Linux or Mac so you’re safe will simply expose you to more risks. All systems are vulnerable. PERIOD.

I haven’t done this myself as my machines seem to be fairly clean of viruses and spyware, and have been for some time. But perhaps this is just false confidence. It would be too late to purchase a system AFTER my data has been compromised.

One possible and affordable solution is buying one of the new netbooks that are on the market: Asus Eee PC, Acer AspireOne, or any of a dozen other pretenders. This might save you buying a whole new expensive desktop, can be filed away easiy (out of sight!) and is easily portable or storable.

What suggestions do you have for securing your data? Have you taken this route? Let me know…

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