Computer security — a wide concept that encompasses almost any software or hardware that is designed to prevent the loss or theft of electronic data — is important for a number of reasons, but perhaps principally as a means of keeping information safe. Most of the time, the term “computer security” refers to the security of a computer’s insides. The data and compendious information that most users store on their hard drives is often far more valuable than are the machines themselves. Broadly speaking, the importance of computer security lies in how harmful it can be if that data is lost.
Most people think about computer security in a corporate or business context. Companies often store a lot of very sensitive information electronically, including trade secrets, customer lists and extensive corporate documents, both finished and those in progress. The importance of computer security is obvious in these contexts. It is perhaps less obvious for home computer users, but it is no less essential.
Computers are not inherently open to risks such as hacking or data breach. In order for outsiders to get into a computer, that computer must somehow open itself up to intrusion. Internet activity is the primary highway for these transactions. Many computer users do not realize that simply accessing the web could be making their computers more vulnerable.
The Internet is a wide canvas for criminals who are looking to do harm by breaching computer security. Simply viewing the Internet rarely poses problems, but anything downloaded, such as software applications or screen savers, can carry risks. Most of the time, users do not even realize that they have downloaded anything amiss and do not realize that their information's security has been breached until it is too late.
Primarily, then, the importance of computer security is to protect the computer and its data as well as its user’s identity. When computer hackers gain access to a computer, they can often see everything that is stored there. This might include bank information, tax identification documents and sensitive health information, along with more mundane files such as word processing documents and family photos. Cyber criminals can use personally identifiable information to steal identities and perpetrate fraud.
The importance of computer security also extends to larger network security. A compromised computer can be manipulated and made into an agent of a cyber crime ring. Viruses and malware are often designed to hijack and exploit email address books, for instance. They can sometimes also turn home computers into “bots,” which are computers that have been taken over and are made to network with others all over the world to perpetrate crime. Computers that have fallen victim to bot networks are all but unusable to their owners, often running very slowly and constantly diverting memory space to running malicious scripts.
Taking charge of computer security usually is as simple as installing an anti-virus program or purchasing basic computer security software. The importance of computer security also extends to computer skills. Users should educate themselves about the risks of the Internet, particularly with respect to downloads. They also should take care when sharing personal information with untrusted websites and should keep credit card information closely guarded.
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