So you just got a new PC for Christmas, and you can hardly wait to put it through its paces.
Since you are reading this I’ll assume that you are aware that there are some fundamental precautions you need to take before you connect to the internet with your new machine. I’m hopeful that you are reading this on your old machine.
This is a good opportunity to review those precautions.
Patch your operating system. Download and install all available patches and service packs by connecting to Windows Update. According to Swedish security company Sophos, 50% of unpatched and unprotected systems will be infected with malicious code within 12 minutes of being connected to the Internet.
Install a firewall. Windows XP comes with a basic firewall, and if you are running Windows Vista, it does come with a more robust firewall (Windows Firewall) than XP, as well as anti-spyware utilities (Windows Defender). However, the consensus is; third party applications are usually more effective. Keep in mind that the XP firewall offers only minimal protection.
There are a number of free firewalls that are worth considering. The following are two that do the job particularly well.
The definitive free firewall, Comodo Firewall protects your system by defeating hackers and restricting unauthorized programs from accessing the Internet. I have been using this application for 8 months and I continue to feel very secure. It resists being forcibly terminated and it works as well, or better, than any firewall I’ve paid for. This is one I highly recommend. Amazing that it’s free!
The free version of ZoneAlarm lacks the features of ZoneAlarm Pro’s firewall. Its program control asks you regularly whether to allow programs; for some this can be intrusive and annoying. But it’s been around forever it seems, and it can’t be shut down, or out, by mal-ware.
Install anti-virus software. There is no doubt that an unprotected computer will become infected by viruses and malware within minutes of first being connected to the internet. There are many free versions of anti-virus software available and the programs that have a well justified reputation are listed below.
avast! 4 Home Edition
This anti virus app is a real fighter, scanning files on demand and on access, including email attachments. Let’s you know when it detects mal-ware through its shield function. An important feature is a boot-time scan option which removes mal-ware that can’t be remove any other way.
AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition
Similarly, this program scans files on access, on demand, and on schedule. Scans email; incoming and outgoing. For those on Vista, your in luck, it’s Vista-ready. I have been using this application since its release and it now forms part of my front line defenses. I recommend this one highly.
Install Spyware and Adware Software. It’s not only a virus that can put your computer down for the count, but a multitude of nasties freely floating on the Internet. Listed below are a number of free programs that offer very good protection against malware.
SpyCatcher does a good job of cleaning out spy-ware and at stopping further infestation.
Many software reviewers consider Ad-Aware 2007 Free as the best free spyware and adware remover available. It does a relatively good job of protecting against known data-mining, Trojans, dialers, malware, browser hijackers and tracking components. The only downside with the free version is real-time protection is not included.
Do you want to get a better understanding of what programs are being added to your computer? Then WinPatrol is the program for you. With WinPatrol, in your system tray, you can monitor system areas that are often changed by malicious programs. You can monitor your startup programs and services, cookies and current tasks. Should you need to, WinPatrol allows you to terminate processes and enable, or disable, startup programs. There are additional features that make WinPatrol a very powerful addition to your security applications.
ThreatFire 3 blocks mal-ware, including zero-day threats, by analyzing program behavior and it does a stellar job. Again, this is one of the security applications that forms part of my front line defenses. I have found it to have high success rate at blocking mal-ware based on analysis of behavior. I highly recommend this one!
If you are now on the Internet, and you have not yet taking the precautions as outlined above, you are extremely vulnerable and it is critical that you take the following precautions:
Stop surfing the Web and patch your operating system. Only then download the protective software as noted above, or software that you are familiar with that will do an appropriate job of protecting your computer.
Do not visit any other websites until you have done this!
Additional security precautions:
Establish a password for the administrator account. Only you should have access to the administrator settings on your PC. Unfortunately, XP installs with open access to the administrator’s account. Be sure to change this.
Create a new password protected user account. Using this account for your general day-to-day activities adds another layer of protection to your computer. A user account does not have the same all-access permissions as your administrator account, and in many cases this extra layer of protection will restrict malware from gaining a foothold on your PC.
Good luck and safe surfing.