So you just might get a new PC for Christmas – if you’ve been good this year! Before you test drive this new machine though, there are some fundamental precautions you need to take before you connect to the Internet.
Patch your operating system. Download and install all available patches and service packs by connecting to Windows Update. Security Gurus will tell you that 50% of unpatched, and unprotected systems, will be infected with malicious code within 12 minutes of being connected to the Internet. Believe it!
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 18 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 (recently updated), 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.
This anti-virus program offers comprehensive protection with an easy to use interface. In the ten months I have been testing Avira I have been impressed with its performance, and I have come to rely on it as my primary anti-virus program. I highly recommend this one.
AVG Anti-Virus Free 8.0 now incorporates protection against spyware through a new combined anti-virus and anti-spyware engine as well as a “safe-searching component” which has been incorporated into the new AVG Internet Security Toolbar. This program scans files on access, on demand, and on schedule and scans email incoming and outgoing. For those on Vista, you’re in luck, it’s Vista-ready.
Install Anti-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.
Having tested virtually all of the major anti-spyware applications over the past year or more, I’ve settled, for now, on Spyware Terminator primarily due to its strong real-time protection against spyware, adware, Trojans, key-loggers, home page hijackers and other malware threats. Spyware Terminator excels in strong active protection against known and unknown threats.
Spyware Doctor Starter Edition from PC Tools is an excellent choice, as a secondary line of defense. This free version of the award winning program, with its easy to use interface, is used by millions of people worldwide to protect their computers; it’s reported there are a million+ additional downloads every week. Be aware however, there is no real-time protection offered with this version and this is the reason I recommend this application as a secondary scanner only.
Many software reviewers consider Ad-Aware Free as the best free 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 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. This is a “must have” application.
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:
Internet Browser protection: Web of Trust – WOT is a free Internet Browser add-on (my personal favorite), that has established an impressive 4.5/5.0 star user rating on CNET. WOT tests web sites you are visiting for spyware, spam, viruses, browser exploits, unreliable online shops, phishing, and online scams, helping you avoid unsafe web sites.
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.
This list is not exhaustive. For more information and additional free anti-malware and system protection applications, read “The 35 Best Free Applications – Tried, Tested and Reliable!” on this site.
Good luck and safe surfing.