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5 clever PC security tips and tricks

It's Safer Internet Day 2014 - so what better time to talk about security hacks?

These simple yet clever ways to protect yourself in the physical and cyber worlds will cost little or nothing, but could prevent all manner of casualties befalling your technology.

The premise behind tricks like this is not that any one – or even all – of them is guaranteed to protect you thoroughly, but rather that each of them will make stealing your system or data more difficult or unappealing. It should go without saying that neither one nor all of these can replace good, up-to-date antivirus and firewall protection.

The classic non-tech security trick is using motion detection spotlights or lights on a timer – even fake video cameras or surveillance warning signage – to give the impression that your home or business is occupied. No thief actually wants to be seen, and few want to chance confrontation. Along similar lines, there are easy and free ways to make your computer and data less available or attractive to thieves.

1. Remove the keyboard and mouse

It sounds a bit silly, but a surprisingly effective PC security trick is simply to remove the keyboard and mouse (when you’re away from the machine, obviously).

I discovered this when the keyboard on my laptop died and I had to use an external keyboard for a while. It's highly unlikely that a snoop will carry an extra keyboard and mouse with him. This will slow someone down but is far from fool-proof, and it should go without saying that every computer should be physically locked to a sturdy object and secured behind a strong password.

2. Protect against pod-slurping

Pod-slurping is the connection of an unauthorised USB device to steal data, and to protect against this, you can disable your USB ports. Or – and we borrowed this one directly from the US military – glue over the USB ports. Too permanent? A slightly more elegant solution is to open the PC case and disconnect (or cut) the wires running from the motherboard to the USB ports.

3. Laptop advice

Traveling with a laptop? Try not to advertise the fact that you're carrying a valuable piece of equipment: Use a computer bag that doesn't look like a computer bag, or use a neoprene sleeve inside a regular backpack. If you nap at the airport, wrap the shoulder strap around your arm or leg so you'll be alerted if someone tries to walk away with your bag.

4. Hide your PC on the network

Here's an easy way to hide your Windows PC on a network while maintaining access to network resources. (This also works when you want stealth but still want to let others access your shared resources).

To do this, go to the command prompt (on Windows 7 and 8, click the start button, type “cmd” then right click Command Prompt and select “Run as administrator”). At the command prompt, type:

Net config server /hidden:yes

Now you're still a member of your network neighbourhood but your PC won't show up when others browse for it. Make sure your software firewall is turned on, and block incoming ICMP traffic. This will prevent a network intruder from scanning for your PC using a ping sweep.

If you want to get rid of this measure, use the exact same command, but instead of yes at the end of the command, you want to put no to turn it off.

5. Enable secure logon

Enabling secure logon in Windows will protect your system from malware that attempts to impersonate a logon screen to steal system passwords. This forces anyone trying to log on to press Ctrl+Alt+Del first.

To do this, in Windows 8, click the Start button and type netplwiz and then press Enter. In the Advanced tab, tick the box next to “Require users to press Ctrl+Alt+Delete,” and then click OK.

In Windows Vista, open the Run command, type netplwiz, and click Continue when prompted by User Account Control. In the Advanced User Account window, click the Advanced tab, then select the box that says “Require users to press Ctrl+Alt+Delete.”

In Windows XP, go to the Control Panel's User Accounts applet. In the Advanced User Account window, click the Advanced tab, then select the box that says “Require users to press Ctrl+Alt+Delete.”