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Tips from the Pros:

Top 5 Ways to Stay Safe Online

Stay up-to-date, stay paranoid, stay protected. That's the message from the security experts we spoke with while developing this story. Here are a few of their top tips and suggestions for protecting your computer against malware and hackers.

1) Keep up on patches.

Be sure to run Windows Update, as well as the software update features in the other programs that you use every day.

2) Be password smart.

As tempting as it is to use the same password in multiple places, don't. And use longer passwords, too-they're harder to crack. If you have lots of accounts to manage, use a password manager. (See "GPUs Power Games, Crack Passwords," for more on this issue.)

3) Use security software.

That may seem self-evident, but it can help block malware or software that is acting suspiciously, and security software companies are hard at work devising new ways to stop infections be­­fore they ever reach your PC. Check our antivirus and security software page regularly for the latest on security products.

4) If it sounds too good to be true... well, you know the rest.

No, someone in a faraway land isn't really offering you millions of dollars. No, attractive women from Russia probably aren't seeking you out specifically. No, those aren't magic cure-all pills.

5) Assume that everyone's out to get you.

PC security is one area where it pays to be paranoid. Just remember that no security software is fail-safe, and that you're still the one sitting at the keyboard. Assume that no site is safe. And don't automatically trust a link or file download, even if a friend sends it to you.

And a few final thoughts:

From Eric Howes, director of research services for security firm GFI Software:

"The user is always the weak link. Even the best antimalware protection and security patches cannot protect a PC from malware if the user sitting at the keyboard is being irresponsible while surfing the Web."

From Roger Thompson, chief research officer, PC security firm AVG:

"Good software designed to detect this stuff (in our case, LinkScanner) helps, but unfortunately, these are areas where the problem is in relative infancy, and is going to get much worse."

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