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December 17, 2011

Put that old computer to good use for safe banking

Daily Star

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If you can answer "yes" to the next two questions, you will want to read the rest of this column.

First, do you access your bank account using your computer over the Internet?

Second, do you (or will you soon) have an extra computer sitting around?

You'd be surprised at how many people do.

If so, you may be able to kill two proverbial birds with one stone. Use the extra computer exclusively for your online banking.

There is one extremely important prerequisite, however. It will have to be properly prepared.

Having a special machine just for banking is becoming more important, and more common. I have several clients who handle large sums of money online regularly, and have found that it gives them a little more peace of mind, and it isn't hard to get used to.

Here is the general idea. There are multitudes of crooks out there in cyberspace who want to steal your money. They use malware to get the keys to your bank accounts in various ways, and new methods to trick you into giving up your secret passwords are being thought up every day.

Most of these methods involve surfing the Web or through email. So, if you don't surf the Web or use email, you have just cut your likelihood of becoming a victim by a great deal.

Now, nobody wants to stop surfing the Internet or using email. But there is another way to accomplish this. Just don't surf or email on the same computer that you do your banking on. Use a different one for all your Internet searching and other online activities. This is a no-brainer, folks.

Planning a new PC for a present to the family? Great, use the old one for financial stuff. It doesn't have to be a very powerful computer, either, as long as it can run a current-technology Web browser. But, like I said before, it requires some important preparation.

You need to make sure it is completely free of any malware before you put it into this kind of service.

The only real way to do this is to "wipe it," as they say in geekspeak.

This means to completely obliterate everything on the hard disk, including the operating system. Then begin from scratch with a fresh install of Windows, or, even better, install one of the free Linux distributions for an operating system instead of Windows. That's what we've done at my house.

Do not _ I repeat _ DO NOT depend on an anti-virus program to provide you with a clean computer. By all means, use an anti-virus program on the computer, but don't depend on it to make a machine that was formerly used for general purposes clean enough for this stuff.

After a clean operating system install has been accomplished, never EVER use it for anything but your banking. This way you are less likely to become infected with something bad. Make sure that you enforce this ground rule.

Create a secret login password and don't share it with the rest of the family, especially the kids.

Even if they cry. Just use the old "it's for your own good" excuse, as my late lamented mother used to tell me (too often, it seemed, back then).

This is not rocket science, readers. It's a relatively easy thing to do. You just have to actually do it.

Make it a New Year's resolution. It would be an easy, and worthwhile, one to keep.

Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by e-mail at His columns can be found at