How to Tune Up Your Anti-Malware Strategy With These Free Solutions

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As highly regarded security guru Bruce Schneier says, “If you think technology can solve your security problems, then you don’t understand the problems and you don’t understand the technology”

Unfortunately, the average user continues to rely only on technology for protection. Recently, I setup a new computer system for a friend; an average user, and as I was tinkering with her system, one though kept bouncing around in my head. “What do I need to do to keep her protected on the Internet?”

I started with the usual things of course, including installing the following security applications.

PC Tools Firewall

– PC Tools Firewall is definitely worth considering as a new Firewall installation, or as a replacement for a current Firewall that is not meeting expectations.

Microsoft Security Essentials

– Easy to set up and run, particularly for new users. The interface is positively simple offering Quick Scan, Full Scan, or Custom Scan. Provides full real time protection against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software.

Avira AntiVir Personal

– Offers on demand scans for viruses, Trojans, backdoor programs, hoaxes, worms, dialers and other malicious programs. As well you can repair, delete, block, rename and quarantine programs, or files.

Firefox

– I then installed the most effective security add-ons, including NoScript, KeyScrambler, Adblock Plus and BetterPrivacy.

WOT

– Web of Trust, a browser add-on which offers Internet users active preventive protection against Web-based attacks, online scams, identify theft, and unreliable shopping sites.

Winpatrol

– This program uses a simple yet effective method of fighting all kinds of malicious programs.

GesWall

– An isolator which dynamically isolates Internet applications including Web Browsers, Chat Clients, Email Clients, and so on.

Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware

– A simple, intuitive, and easy to use interface, makes Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware straightforward to setup, customize and run, for both less experienced and expert users alike. This application was installed as a secondary on demand scanner.

SUPERAntiSpyware Free Edition

– SUPERAntiSpyware is also straightforward to setup, customize and run, for both less experienced and expert users alike. This application was installed as an additional secondary on demand scanner. This should not be considered overkill – there is no one single anti-malware application that is likely to catch everything. Better safe than sorry, and all that.

ThreatFire

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 own front line defenses.

So what could go wrong with this kind of armor against the pack of jackal-like cyber-criminals who prowl the Internet? The short answer is – plenty.

adware 4She still faces substantial risks while surfing the Internet regardless of the antispyware, antivirus, and the other Internet security applications I installed.

Malware evolves so rapidly today, that staying ahead of the curve has proven to be all but impossible for security software developers, despite their best efforts.

While it may be true that reputable Anti-malware software is often capable of detecting harmful and malicious attempts to compromise a computer, this is not always the case. Anti-malware programs that rely on a definition database (most anti-malware programs), can often be behind the curve in recognizing the newest threats.

You might be wondering just how many new malware threats circulate on the Internet – and here’s one answer. Over the last three months alone, PandaLabs has recorded five million new strains of malware.

On the face of it, it may appear that this huge number of new malware strains presents an insurmountable problem. But malware itself is only part of the problem.

The method used to deliver the malware – social engineering – that’s the most significant problem currently, for an average user. Social engineering, which relies on, and exploits our natural curiosity, is a sure winner for the bad guys.

Cyber-criminals are increasingly relying on this aspect of social engineering to create an opportunity designed to drop malicious code, including rootkits, password stealers, Trojan horses, and spam bots on our computers.

So the problem I found myself having to deal with was “If all these security applications I installed won’t offer her absolute protection against cyber-criminals, what, or who will?” The only plausible answer was – she must take on this responsibility herself. The inescapable fact is – she must become her own best protection. In my experience it’s the only strategy that works.

My friend, (just like most average users), had a need to believe, and desperately wanted to be able to trust, that the installed security applications would totally protect her on the Internet.

She, like the rest of us, needed to become convinced that a mild case of paranoia when using the Internet, was in her own best interest. Being suspicious, and untrusting while surfing the web, might not make her invulnerable to malware infections or worse, but it will certainly reduce her odds enormously.

It took considerable effort to finally convince her that mild paranoia would play an important role in preventing her from becoming a victim of cyber criminals.

Particularly, overcoming the instinctive human response (and we all have it), to just “click” while surfing the Internet. That instinctive response, would pose one of the biggest risks to her online safety and security.

Security experts argue (including me), that a significant number of malware infections could be avoided if users stopped “just clicking haphazardly” or opening the types of files that are clearly dangerous.

At the end of the day, I finally managed to get her agreement that she would not engage in any of the following unsafe surfing practices.

Downloading files and software through file-sharing applications such as BitTorrent, eDonkey, KaZaA and other such programs.

Clicking links in instant messaging (IM) that have no context or are composed of only general text.

Downloading executable software from web sites without ensuring that the site is reputable.

Using an unsecured USB stick on public computers, or other computers that are used by more than one person.

Opening email attachments from unknown people.

Opening email attachments without first scanning them for viruses.

Opening email attachments that end in a file extension of .exe, .vbs, or .lnk.

Regular readers of this site are very familiar with the following recommended security strategy to protect their computer system, their money and their identity:

Don’t open unknown email attachments

Don’t run programs of unknown origin

Disable hidden filename extensions

Keep all applications (including your operating system) patched

Turn off your computer or disconnect from the network when not in use

Disable Java, JavaScript, and ActiveX if possible

Disable scripting features in email programs

Make regular backups of critical data

Make a boot disk in case your computer is damaged or compromised

Turn off file and printer sharing on the computer

Install a personal firewall on the computer

Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software and ensure it is configured to automatically update when you are connected to the Internet

Ensure the anti-virus software scans all e-mail attachments

Be proactive when it comes to your computer’s security; make sure you have adequate software based protection to reduce the chances that your machine will become infected. Most of all, understand that you are your own best protection.

Well known software developer Comodo Group, have developed a new Internet video series, Really Simple Security, published on a dedicated YouTube channel, that makes it easier than ever for an average user to become much more proactive in their own protection. This is a site that should be in everyone’s bookmarks.

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25 Comments

Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Antivirus Applications, Comodo, cybercrime, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Free Anti-malware Software, Free Firewalls, Freeware, Microsoft, PC Tools, Software, System Security, Windows 7, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Vista, Windows XP

25 responses to “How to Tune Up Your Anti-Malware Strategy With These Free Solutions

  1. kingpin

    Hi Bill,
    I use WinPatrol Plus,WOT.I definitely thinking of using threat-fire,GesWall.
    I will also add Comodo firewall[freeware],it holds no.1 position for good firewall by matousec.com

    Thanks you for list.

    PS:I wait for your review on Gdata2010.

  2. Murphy

    Hi,
    Useful article . Thank you .
    Twitter :)….
    Best regards !

  3. leofelix

    Hi,
    I think Bruce Schneier expressed my same thoughts about security:-)
    So thank you for quoting him.

    Regards

    leofelix security suite ™;-)

    • Bill Mullins

      Hey Leofelix,

      I hear you – I can’t recall ever disagreeing with Bruce Schneier, He’s the MAN.

      Best,

      Bill

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  6. Cappydawg

    Very good article, all are choices I use, but the most important that he mention was the paranoia factor. If, we the user would just think before clicking it would make a big difference.

    • Bill Mullins

      Hey Cappydawg,

      You are so right – it’s as simple as that. Stop – Think – Click. Then, we would have a chance of beating these people.

      Bill

  7. Mal

    Hey Bill,

    Great article, it reminded me of the time a few years back when I fixed someone’s virus infested computer. I installed firewalls and AV’s and such, told them of the dangers of just clicking away on internet sites etc. The following week, they were infected again. Why? The turned off the firewall because they thought it was interfering with the internet!! And they kept on downloading “free stuff”. In the end, I told them I couldn’t help anymore, because it was pointless wasting my time doing it.

    So, yes, you can have all the latest protection, but if you don’t use your head as well, it’s a waste of time.

    Cheers

    • Bill Mullins

      Hey Mal,

      I agree with you totally! I rarely do any work on a friend’s computer for the very reasons you outlined. They tend to think that they have their very own, built-in support staff; so why learn anything.

      I don’t actually do this type of work but, I can assure you, that if this friend hadn’t been interested in improving her skills, she would have gotten a bill for $500.

      As my father said years ago “If you work for nothing, you’ll never be out of a job”. He was right.

      Bill

  8. dar

    -this comment by
    Cantankerous Old Buzzard @ elReg sums it up nicely:

    No !!!

    I will definitely NOT learn to live with it. The shoddy “products” that Micro$lop has been putting out for the past 15 – 20 years made me move to Linux to get some stability and reliability back in the Nineties.

    I refuse to tolerate and/or pay for inferior quality workmanship ANYWHERE, including computers that I use and/or maintain. Therefore, since my most charitable interpretation of “MS” comes out as “Mediocre Software” I keep as far away from the Rubbish from Redmond as I possibly can.

    • Bill Mullins

      Hey Dar,

      Well, if Microsoft was the problem, I might be inclined to buy in to Cantankerous Old Buzzard @ elReg point of view. But Microsoft is not the problem – Cybercriminals are the problem – the emphasis here is on CRIMINALS.

      We don’t hold the builders of our homes responsible when they get burglarized – *we hold the criminals responsible*. If there was no benefit in equipping our homes against theft, or learning to protect ourselves against illegal entry, why have locks? Why have alarm systems? Why have neighborhood watch? Why have law enforcement continuously involved in educating people on this issue.

      On the Internet we are forced to deal with criminals – this has nothing to do with Microsoft. It has everything to do with CRIMINALS. It’s incumbent upon us, that we learn how to protect ourselves and that we use all available tools to do just that. We, individual users, reap the benefit.

      Linux is NOT immune to malware; that is a fallacy. A Linux user with any degree of experience knows this. The very fact that a person chooses to run Linux, indicates he/she has a better than average understanding of operating systems, and in all likelihood, is better equipped to avoid any malware.

      In the years I’ve been in computing, more than 30+, back to the days of programming on program boards, I’ve never been able to hold a conversation with a LInux zealot like Cantankerous Old Buzzard @ elReg. All I normally get is a repeat of the same old BS, without any direct comparisons to any MS systems, or OSs.

      Given that Linux is free in many distributions, it strikes me as curious why the growth rate of this OS is so poor, and the number of actual users as a percentage of overall users is so low. Generally, something that is free, is snapped up by the masses. So why not Linux?

      Cantankerous Old Buzzard @ elReg might have a firm understanding of how he benefits from Linux, but he has a very limited understanding of human nature. He’s no more, and no less, than a Fanboy – and a cantankerous one at that.

      Bill

  9. I’ve come up with a unique new test question to find out how experienced someone is. It really isn’t a malware question but it does help measure someone’s gullibility.

    Simple question.
    “Have you ever heard of Snopes.com”?

    Followed by, If someone told you about Snopes.com did you go there or did you reply “Well, it still could happen”?
    🙂

    Bill

    • Bill Mullins

      Hey Bill,

      I agree – not a bad test. I find their “Virus Hoax and Realities” page worthwhile.

      Thanks for this.

      Best,

      Bill

  10. Andy

    Great article and some good advice. Some people I know just love to click “Run” or “Install” buttons whilst surfing the Internet and not knowing what havoc they are unleashing on their computers. Most of my friends and relatives are newbies and are very naive of their actions whilst surfing the web. The best defense from malware there is, is you but sandboxie or geswall do help. You can run your browser safely with any of these programs. Also install your Microsoft updates regularly, many of my friends can’t be bothered to update and install their Microsoft updates. Avira free antivirus is good but not very good at detecting rogue software,the same goes for AVG free. Microsoft security essentials is excellent and avast 5 free and Panda cloud av are quite good too. I use comodo Internet security myself. Really it doesn’t matter which antivirus you use as long as you use sandboxie or geswall with it.

    This is another great article and a must read for Internet newbies and Internet security fans everywhere,you can expect this sort of quality of article here,thanks Bill!

    Andy (UK)

  11. Superb article, Bill. Some good comments as well. This one is definitely a Keeper!

    Sadly GesWall refuses to install on my laptop as it has a FAT filesystem.

    All the best,
    Dave K

    • Bill Mullins

      Hey Dave,

      You’re on XP right? It’s easy to convert to NTFS using the command Convert.exe. Checkout this MS page .

      Bill

      • I already converted one partition (D: drive) a while back, but there’s some reason (I forget what) why the C: drive is specifically FAT32 so I’m reluctant to change it. No point in asking for problems. There’s a hidden recovery partition in there which I’ve made use of before. Maybe that’s it.

        Thanks, Bill.

  12. John

    I installed four of these mentioned programmes yesterday (Winpatrol, WOT, ThreatFire and GesWall) to run along side the plethora of other programmes which I have mentioned before.

    Something has dramatically slowed down my internet surfing, and it takes like what seems forever now for a new page to load.

    I’m suspecting it’s GesWall that has slowed things down, does anyone else have any ideas?

    Cheers
    John

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  14. Frank Woodman Jr

    Great article and I can attest to all of the programs listed as being very good. I didn’t have the comodo group listing but will sure use it and spread it around. Nothing is harder than getting people to avoid falling for social engineering treats. No software works when the people using it don’t really understand and follow good security measures.
    Just keep up the good work!!
    Frank Woodman Jr

    • Bill Mullins

      Hi Frank,

      Glad to see that you agree with the choice of applications.

      You’re quite right, falling for social engineered threats will override any installed security application.

      Thanks for visiting.

      Bill