The real computer security disasters you hear about on the news often involve government computers: Rafael Núñez hacks the Defense Information Systems Agency, or Gary McKinnon executes the “biggest military computer hack of all time” according to his prosecutors, or Lulzsec or Anonymous take out another government bureau’s website.

Describing these cyber security attacks in detail might be interesting, but it would hardly be instructive. Most people reading this article don’t run government computer systems—and those that do should already know more about security than I can say in this short article.

But real computer security disasters don’t just happen to governments or other large organizations—most computer security disasters happen to real people like you and me. So here are 5 real computer security disasters you should watch out for:

Computer Security Disaster #1—The Junk Computer

Researchers affiliated with the University of California at Berkeley went dumpster diving for old computers. On nearly every one of those discarded PCs they found personal details still on the hard drives.

I’m not talking about personal diaries. They found passwords to online accounts, credit card numbers, social security numbers, and confidential business information. And they found all of this using basic computer repair tools and software.

Before you discard your computer, be sure to use disk shredding software. If you don’t know how to use shredding software or you’re not sure it worked, pull the disk out of your computer and bring it to a facility when they physically shred your disk.

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Computer Security Disaster #2—Kids

Assume your kids aged 5 and up know more about computers than you do. Assume this even if you have a PhD in computer science.

There are very few computer devices that kids can’t eventually figure their way around. Parental controls are an easy hack and passwords an even lower barrier.

If you have kids, keep your household computers and Internet-capable devices in a common area so that you can monitor kids with your unhackable eyeballs.

Computer Security Disaster #3—Phising

Everyone thinks they’re too smart and too well informed to fall for phising attacks. And it’s true that most of these attacks are easy to recognize by the crude way they forge emails from companies you trust.

But if most phisers are idiots, the best phisers are not. They spend hours creating authentic-looking emails and websites which fool even professional Internet security experts.

The best way to protect yourself is to use bookmarks to visit your financial or important websites. So instead of clicking a link to PayPal.com, click the bookmark you previously saved in your Web browser.

Real Computer Security Disaster #4—Fake Real Software

There are thousands of great freeware applications out there. I love trying them—you probably do too. But hidden amongst these free gems are viruses and trojans that can cost you big.

While reviewing anti-virus software for a client, I came across dozens of sham programs. Some of them were just a waste of money, but others looked like they installed viruses themselves.

See the screenshot below. It is Thinkpoint fake security software. It tells the computer user that they have been infected and need to upgrade the software in order to save their computer from disaster.

computer security disasters

Some clever hackers even take a legitimate freeware program and bundle it with their favorite virus. Then, when you install the program, you don’t realize anything is wrong until the virus has turned your computer into a zombie spambot and your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is threatening to disconnect you for good.

The best way to avoid infected software downloads is to only follow software links from sites you trust. The next best way is to always scan executable software with your virus scanner before you install it.

The Last Computer Security Disaster

It’s the computer security danger you don’t know about that puts you at the greatest risk. The Internet gets more dangerous every day, and you’ll never know what computer security threats you’ll be facing tomorrow if you don’t read the computer news today. Your best computer security is information, so be sure to spend at least a few minutes every week reading about the newest computer security threats.