Planning On A New Christmas Computer? Security Precautions To Consider

imageWe are now officially in the “Holiday Season”, so along with those visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in your head, you just might have visions of a super hot, quad core beast, that you can rip the wrapping off of after Santa has dropped down your chimney.

So if you’ve been good this year, and Santa does drop off that new screaming machine, no doubt you’ll want to put it through its paces right away. But before you test drive this new machine, there are some fundamental precautions you need to take before you connect to the Internet.

Patch your operating system:

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Download and install all available patches, and service packs – if applicable, 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:

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Windows 7 comes with a vastly improved Firewall – substantially better than in previous versions of the operating system. Still, many techies consider third party applications more effective.

There are a number of free firewalls that are worth considering. The following are three that do the job particularly well. (Choose only one)

Comodo Firewall Pro:

Comodo Firewall (last updated November 11, 2010), protects your system by defeating hackers and restricting unauthorized programs from accessing the Internet. I ran with this application for 18 months during a long term test, and I felt very secure.

PC Tools Firewall Plus 7:

Having tested this application for more than six months I was impressed with its performance. It installed easily, set up quickly, and did not caused any conflicts on my test machine despite my sometimes esoteric running requirements. The default settings are well thought out, and provide excellent protection for less experience users.

ZoneAlarm Free Firewall 2010:

ZoneAlarm’s default settings are well thought out, and provide excellent protection for less experience users particularly. Experienced users on the other hand, can tinker to their hearts content, customizing and tweaking the application to meet their specific requirements.

Install anti-virus software:

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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 listed below have a well justified reputation. (Choose only one – although Immunet Protect will run successfully as a companion application).

Avira AntiVir Personal:

This anti-virus program offers comprehensive protection with an easy to use interface. In the time that 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 on an XP Pro system. I highly recommend this one.

Panda Cloud Antivirus:

I’ve been testing the Beta version of Panda Cloud Antivirus since the end of April 2009, off and on, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with it’s performance, particularly the light use of system resources. This application is definitely not a resource hog, and I found it outstanding at recognizing and blocking malware threats.

Immunet Protect 2:

Immunet Protect is a lightweight cloud based antivirus application, (available in both a free, and a fee version), designed to add a layer of protection while working in partnership with the most popular antimalware solutions. You’ll find Immunet Protect straightforward to install, and easy to run without complication.

Install Anti-spyware and Adware Software:

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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.

Microsoft Security Essentials:

Microsoft Security Essentials, which incorporates antivirus, antispyware and rootkit protection, all under one roof, was released by Microsoft last year as a free  replacement application for Windows Live OneCare. Microsoft Security Essentials is easy to set up and run, particularly for new users. And, the interface is positively simple offering Quick Scan, Full Scan, or Custom Scan.

Spybot Search and Destroy:

Spybot Search & Destroy can detect and remove a multitude of adware files and modules from your computer. Spybot also can clean program and Web-usage tracks from your system, which is especially useful if you share your computer. Modules chosen for removal can be sent directly to the included file shredder, ensuring complete elimination from your system.

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 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!

Additional security protection:

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Web of Trust (WOT):

WOT is a free Internet Browser add-on which 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.

SpywareBlaster:

SpywareBlaster prevents ActiveX-based spyware, adware, dialers, and browser hijackers from installing on your system by disabling the CLSIDs (a system used by software applications to identify a file or other item), of spyware ActiveX controls. As well, SpywareBlaster can block spyware/tracking cookies and restrict the actions of spyware/adware/tracking sites in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and other browsers.

WinPatrol:

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.

SpyShelter:

SpyShelter is an anti-keylogging, anti-spyware program that protects your data from Keylogging and spy programs: known, unknown, and under-development. It detects and blocks dangerous and malicious programs, to help ensure that your data cannot be stolen by cyber criminals.

Note: Keep in mind however, that even the best layered protection strategy will not make up for lack of experience, and intuitiveness, when surfing the Internet. So, I’ll repeat what I have said here, many times – “knowledge, awareness, and experience are critical ingredients in the escalating battle, against cybercriminals.”

This list is not exhaustive by any means, but it is a good place to start.

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22 Comments

Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Antivirus Applications, Cloud Computing Applications, Comodo, cybercrime, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Free Anti-malware Software, Free Firewalls, Freeware, Malware Protection, Microsoft, Software, Spyware - Adware Protection, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools

22 responses to “Planning On A New Christmas Computer? Security Precautions To Consider

  1. Bill,

    Super advice and Super article… I will be passing this on to my friends and family. Can you imagine a new computer, spirits are high and you jump right in, get connected, and bang, you take a malware hit… Talk about ruining a Christmas! This stuff is for real…

    Rick

    • Hey Rick,

      Cybercrooks don’t take time off for Christmas, or any other day for that matter – as you know well. So there are going to be more than a few new users wondering what happened to their speedy machines if they run on the Internet without taking proper precautions.

      Great to see you drop by.

      Bill

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  3. mrlokinight

    Hi Bill ~ I endorse your views on Avira (I have XP Pro) WOT & Threatfire
    Regarding the latter it has protected me from myself a couple of times & it doesn’t noticeably eat performance

    If the new computer is a gift to a youngster I recommend that they put up 50% of the cost themselves & it should be supplied in kit form

    Peace’n’Love
    Nightjar

    • Hey Nightjar,

      I was surrounded by good ideas today, having spent all day in development meetings. But your idea of gifting a computer in kit form, is the best idea I’ve heard today. Probably all week, actually. I support the idea enthusiastically.

      Best,

      Bill

  4. John

    Hi Bill,

    Great article as usual! I appreciate the great work you do, Bill. It’s a rare day I don’t stop by your site.

    On the firewalls, you mentioned to choose only one. I understand that two or more firewalls running at the same time often causes conflicts.

    However, you also mentioned the same regarding the anti-malware software. I always get confused on this point. I thought if two or more play well together it’s ok. For example, I run WinPatrol, Threatfire, MSE , WOT, Ad-aware , Spyware Blaster and Zemana anti-logger all concurrently. I haven’t experienced any apparent conflicts between any of them. Doesn’t doing this adhere to the layered strategy of security?

    Any and all comments are welcome from all.

    Regards,
    John

    • Hi John,

      You’re doing exactly the right thing. In fact, What you’re running is almost identical to my setup at home. In my case, I drop ad-Aware and run Immunet Protect since it provides cloud based coverage.

      Malware is a generic term that covers a wide variance in cyber threats from viruses, to rootkits, to spyware, to adware, to keyloggers, and so on. Each type of cyber threat behaves differently, one from the other, which is why we have diverse applications like Anti-virus, Anti-Spyware, Anti- Keyloggers and so on.

      An anti-malware suite, will general provide protection against spyware, viruses, keyloggers and so on – each component being designed to work together. Trying to mix and match individual components (in a sense building your own suite), can often lead to conflicts. For example, you run MSE which includes antivitus, antispyware and rootkit protection. So, if you were to run Avast, or Avira concurrently, both of which do essentially the same job as MSE, the potential for conflict exists.

      ThreatFire has been specifically designed to work as a companion application, as has Ad-Aware, so the potential for conflict is quite small, or as in your case and mine – non existent.

      Zemana Anti-logger is specifically designed to guard against keyloggers, so conflict shouldn’t be an issue with other types of antimalware applications. WOT is a Browser add-on, so it has no potential for conflict. And, the same for Spyware Blaster, since it deals with ActiveX within a Browser and not directly within the OS. WinPatrol is a system utility that can help to control malware penetration attempts, but it is not an antimalware application – since it does not directly identify malware, nor does it remove it.

      At the end of the day the test is simply this – if two antimalware applications perform the same function, then running both concurrently has an enhanced possibility for conflict. Unless of course, the application has been designed as a companion application like ThreatFire and Immunet Protect.

      If you have any questions on this explanation, please let me know.

      BTW, I’m grateful to you for being such a loyal reader. Thank you.

      Bill

  5. g

    I’d like to add Malwarebytes and Superantispyware as part of a routine scan! Great list Bill!!

  6. John

    Thanks for the clarification, Bill. It helps my understanding greatly. Some people I know think I’m paranoid about security, but I always wonder how clean their systems are. Oh, I forgot to mention Immunet Protect in my list. It hasn’t seemed to conflict with Ad-Aware at this point.

    Thanks again, and keep up the fight. Perhaps some day technology will advance and find a way to make cyberthreats a thing of the past.

    John

    • Hi John,

      Well, as the man said – “It ain’t paranoia if they’re really after you.” And as you and I both know well – they really are after us. So, we’ll keep on protecting ourselves as best we can, and hope for that day where, as you suggest – “cyberthreats are a thing of the past.”

      Best,

      Bill

  7. John Bent

    Hi Bill,
    Or to put it another way, just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you!
    I’m glad you clarified that it is ok to run Immunet Protect together with Threatfire and MSE. I allowed myself to be talked into uninstalling TF by someone at a well-known OS supplier whose name begins with M.
    No I can’t believe it either!

    Kind Regards
    John

  8. Mal

    Hey Bill,
    John’s comment reminds me of those computer salespeople, who insist just one security suite is good enough to protect you. Which means, to me at least, they shouldn’t have their jobs because they know nothing really.

    Cheers

  9. hipockets

    Hi, Bill –

    I installed TrendMicro’s Titanium Internet Security software about two weeks ago, and so far I am very impressed with it.

    My anti-malware arsenal just before installation was Avira, Norton SafeWeb Lite, WOT, GES Wall, ThreatFire AntiVirus Free Edition, WebRoot SpySweeper, Immunet, and the ZoneAlarm fire wall.

    During the installation process, TTi found and asked me to remove all of them, and, somewhat reluctantly, I did so.

    During the first Quick Scan, it found 14 problems. About half of them were in the System Volume Information folder.

    Have you had any experience yet with TTi? Any thoughts?

    ‘Preciate you and you site!

    • Hey Hipockets,

      No, I’ve not yet gotten to TrendMicro’s Titanium – although it’s on my short list. From what I’ve heard to this point, it’s a solid performer.

      Bill

  10. ace

    I prefer to use kaspersky, I never worried about viruses, virtual keyboard also available to protect from keylogger. But, nice post anyway.
    thanks

  11. Marie

    Hi Bill:
    I really enjoy reading your stuff even though its over my head most of the time. I am not very experienced at all in computers and much less in anti virus protection. I just knew I needed something and thought that Norton was enough. Now I see that I was way off. This is too much for me to even try to tackle. I am always afraid that I will make a bigger mess if I try something. My computer must be infected with somethng even though I have been using the CCleaner for several months. I figure if I delete something I may be deleteing something that I need and then make matters worse. I should probably take some computer classes and learn to do things right. Anyway, I wanted to ask you about Viper. I had heard its very good and economical as compared to other protection software but my daughter tells me she read some bad reviews about it. What are your thoughts?
    Thanks!

    • Hi Marie,

      A few things:

      It’s virtually impossible for CCleaner to damage your system – no need to worry.

      There is no perfect anti-malware solution – that’s a reality. But, VIPRE is recognized as one of the best. On the other hand, there is no need to spend $$$ to obtain excellent protection. Microsoft Security Essentials is highly recommended, and free. For more information on this free application, please read “Round Two: Download Next Generation Microsoft Security Essentials“, on my site.

      Best,

      Bill