Tag Archives: security applications

Layered Computer Security – What Is It? Why Use It?

image Cybercriminals design malware to exploit vulnerable systems without user interaction being required – on the one hand, and craft attacks that take advantage of unaware computer users, in which user interaction is required – on the other hand.

The second part, of this two part attack approach, can only be defeated if the computer user is aware of current Internet threats. So, knowledge and experience, are critical ingredients in the never ending, and escalating battle, against cybercriminals.

In order to defeat attacks which rely on exploiting vulnerable systems, the preferred method to do so, is the implementation of a layered security approach. Employing layered security should ensure the swift detection of malware, before any damage occurs on the targeted system.

We live in a world in which we are surrounded by “buzz words”, and it seems that I’m occasionally guilty of using buzz words in writing this Blog. Buzz words which don’t always adequately explain a point, or which interfere with a readers understanding of a concept.

This was brought home to me recently when a regular reader emailed me privately; asking that I explain layered security. As I considered this, it occurred to me that this was a very legitimate question. From a reader’s perspective – just what is “layered security”?

What is layered security?

Let’s take the “buzz” out of layered security. Layered security, in its simplest form, consists of stacking security solutions, one on top of the other, to protect a computer from current, and zero day malware attacks (malware for which there is yet, no programmed defense).

Why do you need it?

The answer is pretty simple – gap management (words that are well know to consultants). In other words, no single security application is capable (nor should we expect a single application to be capable), of providing adequate computer system protection. Gaps exist in protection capabilities in even the most sophisticated security applications.

Layering (or stacking) security applications, offers the best chance of remaining infection free, by closing these gaps. Keep in mind however, that even the best layered protection strategy will not make up for the lack of experience, and intuitiveness, of many computer users. So, I’ll repeat what I said earlier “knowledge, awareness, and experience are critical ingredients in the escalating battle, against cybercriminals”

A consumer layered security approach: recommendations.

Backup – While you may not think that a backup strategy forms part of a layered security approach to Internet security, it is, without exception, a most crucial part. Consider where you would be if your layered security strategy failed. If you’ve ever lost critical data to a malware infection, no doubt you already consider it of primary importance.

Free backup utilities are readily available – see “Hard Drive Cloning is Easy with Free Easeus Disk Copy” and “Free DriveImage XML – “The Best Way to Backup Data?”, on this site.

Operating System and Application Patch Management – Again, this is an area that is often not considered as critical by many users. In a recent survey, Secunia, the Danish computer security service provider, well known for tracking vulnerabilities in software and operating systems, concluded that less than one in 50 Windows driven computers, are totally patched.

To stay ahead of the curve in this critical area consider downloading, and installing, the free Secunia Personal Software Inspector, which will constantly monitor your system for insecure software installations, notify you when an insecure application is installed, and even provide you with detailed instructions for updating the application, when available.

Firewall – Simply put,  a firewall is an application, or a hardware appliance, designed to block unauthorized access to your computer from the Internet, at the same time permitting authorized communications.

There are many free Firewalls available, but many can be intrusive and not really appropriate for casual computer users. PC tools offers a very robust, uncomplicated, free Firewall, and more information is available here, “ PC Tools Firewall – A Freebie Worth Having”.

Antimalware – A front line antimalware application is absolutely critical to avoid system infection. Your primary application should be supplemented by an on-demand scanner (part of the stacking approach).

There is no harm in downloading more than one antimalware application to be used as a secondary scanner. In fact, doing so can be advantageous. However, be sure NOT to allow more than one application to autostart, in order to prevent conflicts. For a list and download links to recommended free antimalware applications, including secondary scanners, see “Tech Thoughts Top 8 Free Antimalware Applications”, on this site.

Antivirus – An antivirus application is another critical component in a layered defense strategy to ensure that if a malicious program is detected, it will be stopped dead in its tracks!

Avira AntiVir Personal (see “Free Avira AntiVir Personal Protection – Get the Real Deal!” on this site), is a very effective application which offers scans for viruses, Trojans, backdoor programs, hoaxes, worms, dialers and other malicious programs.

It’s simple interface provides access to a command structure, that makes it easy to repair, delete, block, rename and quarantine programs, or files.

Web Browser Security – Install a free Internet Browser add-on such as WOT (my personal favorite). 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.

System Isolation – An isolator is a security application which dynamically isolates Internet applications including Web Browsers, Chat Clients, Email Clients, and so on. Isolators, or sandbox applications, prevent damage from intrusions and malicious software: viruses, worms, spyware, key loggers etc., including disallowing rogue software from being installed. To understand this concept more thoroughly, please see “Free GeSWall Isolates You From Cybercriminals”, on this site.

Zero Day Protection – Since most viruses, worms, Trojans and other types of Internet threats only last 24 hours, how do security applications that rely on a definition database to identify malware files (most anti-malware applications), keep up with this onslaught? The simple answer is; they don’t.

Threatfire, from PC Tools is a terrific security application which covers the vulnerability gap with respect to zero-day threats. ThreatFire blocks malware (including zero-day threats) by analyzing program behavior (heuristics), based on the theory that if it looks like a crook and acts like a crook, then it must be a crook, instead of relying only on a signature based database.

For additional information and a download link please see “Protect Yourself Against Zero Day Internet Threats with Free ThreatFire From PC Tools”, on this site.

The Internet is an uncertain world at the best of times, but by protecting your computer using a layered approach, you will reduce the chances of malware infections very substantially.

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Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Antivirus Applications, Application Vulnerabilities, Backup Tools, cybercrime, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Free Anti-malware Software, Free Firewalls, Freeware, Internet Safety, Software, System Security, Viruses, Windows Tips and Tools

Just Say “No” to Computer Malware

imageIn the years I’ve been involved with computer security, I have rarely heard an infected computer user take responsibility for a malware infection.

Virtually every computer user, at both the home user level, and at the corporate level, whom I come into contact with, tends to downplay personal responsibility for a malware infection.

I hear a lot of – “I don’t know what happened”; “it must have been one of the kids”; “all I did was download a free app that told me I was infected”; “no, I never visit porn sites” or, Bart Simpson’s famous line “it wasn’t me”. Sort of like “the dog ate my homework”, response.

But we old timers know the reality is somewhat different, and here’s why. Cybercriminals overwhelmingly rely on social engineering to create an opportunity designed to drop malicious code, including rootkits, password stealers, Trojan horses, and spam bots, on Internet connected computers. In other words, cybercriminals rely on the user saying – “YES”.

Yes to:

Downloading that security app that told you your machine was infected. Thereby, infecting your computer with a rogue security application.

Opening that email attachment despite the fact it has a .exe .vbs, or .lnk.extension, virtually guaranteeing an infection.

Downloading that media player codec to play a  porno clip, which still won’t play, but your computer is now infected.

Clicking on links in instant messaging (IM) that have no context, or are composed of only general text, which will result in your computer becoming part of a botnet.

Downloading executable software from web sites without ensuring that the site is reputable. Software that may contain a Browser Hijacker as part of the payload.

Opening email attachments from people you don’t know. At a minimum, you will now get inundated with Spam mail which will increase the changes of a malware infection.

There are many more opportunities for you to say “yes”, while connected to the Internet, but those listed above are some of the the most common.

The Internet is full of traps for the unwary – that’s a fact, and that’s not going to change any time soon. Cyber criminals are winning this game, and unless you learn to say “NO”, it’s only a matter of time until you have to deal with a malware infected machine.

An example of a rogue security application getting ready to pounce.



Don’t play the “yes” game. Ensure you have adequate knowledge to protect yourself and stay ahead of the curve. Make a commitment to acquire the knowledge necessary to ensure your personal safety on the Internet. In a word, become  “educated”.

If you lack this knowledge the answer is simple – you can get it. The Internet is full of sites (including this one), dedicated to educating computer users on computer security, including providing application reviews, and links to appropriate security software solutions.

It’s important to be aware however, that security applications alone, will not ensure your safety on the Internet. You really do need to become proactive to your Internet safety and security. And that does mean becoming educated, and taking personal responsibility for your Internet security.

As we have pointed out many times on this site, the instinctive human response to say “yes”, poses one of the biggest risks to online safety and security.

Before you say “yes” –

Stop – consider where you’re action might lead

Think – consider the consequences to your security

Click – only after making an educated decision to proceed

Consider this from Robert Brault:

“The ultimate folly is to think that something crucial to your welfare is being taken care of for you”.

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Filed under Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, Email, email scams, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety, Malware Advisories, Online Safety, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools

Follow the 3 Magic Steps to Internet Security – Stop – Think – Click

Let me begin this article by defining the word “responsibility”, a concept which appears to me, to be losing its place in modern culture.

Definition – a duty or obligation to satisfactorily perform or complete a task (assigned by someone, or created by one’s own promise or circumstances) that one must fulfill, and which has a consequent penalty for failure.

image Virtually every computer user, at both the home user level and at the corporate level, whom I come into contact with, fails to take personal responsibility for their security on the Internet.

After all, the reasoning seems to be, I’ve got ABC anti-virus and ABC anti-spyware. Or, my employer takes care of that. But, as the above definition makes crystal clear, there is a penalty for failure to personally assume the burden of responsibility.

Look, the indisputable facts are:

As an Internet user you are engaged in a battle, yes a battle, against highly sophisticated and highly organized cyber-criminals who are relentless in their pursuit of your money and make no mistake – it’s all about the money; your money.

In the worst case scenario, your identity and your financial security can be severely compromised by these cyber-criminals.

It’s no accident that cyber crime is now a 100+ BILLION dollar industry. Make no mistake, this IS an industry. An industry which incorporates all of the strategic planning, and best practices, required to maximize profit.

Today’s cyber-crooks are smart; very smart. They are not, as many people believe, teenage hackers sitting at their computers playing at hacking.

Looking at recent estimates provided by a large number of Internet security providers, the consensus seems to be that there are over 11,000,000 malware programs currently circulating on the Internet. This is not the work of teenage hackers.

Many Internet security companies report having to deal with up to 20,000 new versions of malware – every single day! Here’s the math; one new malware program every four seconds!

Until a year or so ago, I agreed with the consensus that typical/average Internet users were simply unaware of the potential dangers all of us are forced to deal with while attached to the Internet? I’ve now revised my views.

Being involved in computer security, I am amazed and frankly frustrated, at the lack of personal responsibly exhibited by most typical computer users, and most importantly, the lack of commitment to acquiring the knowledge necessary to ensure personal safety on the Internet. In a word, becoming “educated”.

Users need to stop depending on their security applications alone to ensure their safety. They need to become proactive, which means becoming educated and personally responsible, rather than continuing to be reactive to threats to their safety.

Depending on security applications to provide the ultimate in protection, is an absolute “non-starter”. Security applications do not, and never have had the ability to this, despite the commonly help belief to the contrary. If you’re struggling with the reality of this statement, take a look at “Anti-Malware Solutions Test Results” from Anti-malware Test Lab. You might be in for a very unpleasant surprise.

Enhance your security on the Internet by:

Choosing to become educated on the realities of cyber crime

Taking personal responsibility for your own security

A major step you can take to in prevent yourself from becoming a victim of cyber-criminals is to overcome the instinctive response to just “click” while surfing the Internet.

That instinctive response poses one of the biggest risks to your online safety and security.

Stop – consider where you’re action might lead

Think – consider the consequences to your security

Click – only after making an educated decision to proceed

Consider this from Robert Brault:

“The ultimate folly is to think that something crucial to your welfare is being taken care of for you”.

If you enjoyed this article, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.


Filed under Application Vulnerabilities, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety, Online Safety, Personal Perspective, Spyware - Adware Protection, Windows Tips and Tools

FREE Layers of Computer Protection!

Rick Robinette has some terrific advice on Internet and system security. Coupled with this, Rick has put together a terrific list of free applications for you to consider.

I have had many people approach me and ask,

“What is a good Security Suite to install on my PC?”

For the sake of this article, a “Security Suite” is a proprietary combo package that offers multi-dimensional levels of protection (against spyware, viruses, malware, rootkits, etc.).

I don’t know why (well I do), I start to cringe when I hear people tell me their stories of using the “high powered” security suites (that cost money); that they either installed or simply are using because it was on their new PC.

I have found it ends up being a convoluted mess that causes the user to become frustrated; often is a burden to the PC; and often ends up where they let their subscription expire (thus having no protection at all).

I also get the feeling that people, who use these security suites, have a false sense of security and think they are “ultimately” protected from anything and everything.

I have experienced just about every type of security software package out there. Am I an expert? No… But, the strategy I have been adhering to, has worked; especially when it comes to “layers” of protection that I set up on my computer; without causing my computer to come to a crawl. I use no Security Suites, never have, never will…

If you plan to go the route I am about to suggest (of no Security Suite), you will need to uninstall your current security suite software. The uninstall of security software can be very tricky and I encourage you to visit the vendor’s site to explore this subject or get a tech to assist you. I also posted (2)-two recent articles on this topic:

AppRemover… Antivirus and Antispyware Uninstaller!

Uninstalling and Installing AntiVirus Software…

The listing below are the layers of protection (all FREE) I have installed on my PC…  I encourage you to check for comments following this article, due some of the techs out there may add further information or make suggestions.  All of the software reflected is FREE…

You can click on the links below to explore each specific title:

Common Sense – You can not install this… I have found that if your gut says “beware”; then follow your gut.  Also, I am not an advocate of social sites, porn sites, pirating sites, etc…. If it is something that violates morality; believe me, you will be victimized.  “Where the people gather, the cybercriminals prey”. Please use common sense!

Microsoft Windows Updates – You should set your computer to automatically update or at least alert you that updates are available. Either way, this is very, very important. Keep your operating system up to date. Microsoft usually unleashes updates the 2nd Tuesday of each month.  You can learn more about Windows Updates and “patch Tuesday” [ HERE ] .

Software Updates – Keep any software on your PC up-to-date. Popular title software that is used by the masses are often targeted by hackers looking for methods to exploit any vulnerabilities or code flaws. I currently use Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI) to assist me with maintaining software updates.

Windows Vista Firewall – I currently use the Vista Firewall and have no other firewall software installed.

Properly configured, it can stop many kinds of malware before they can infect your computer or other computers on your network. Windows Firewall, which comes with Windows Vista, is turned on by default and begins protecting your computer as soon as Windows starts. – [ source: Microsoft ]

WinPatrol – a robust SECURITY MONITOR , WinPatrol will alert you to hijackings, malware attacks and critical changes made to your computer without your permission. The software puts a small “Scotty Dog” in the tray area that will bark when a change occurs. It is strictly for monitoring and does not fix anything. You can also get full details about WinPatrol [ HERE ].

Avast! Antivirus Home Edition – a full-featured antivirus package, with anti-spyware and anti-rootkit built-in, that is designed exclusively for non-commercial & home use. You can also get full details about Avast! [ HERE ].

MalwareBytes Anti-Malware – an easy-to-use, simple, and effective anti-malware application. Use the “Free” version of this app to manually scan your system for malware. You can also get full details about MalwareBytes Anti-Malware [ HERE ].

SuperAntiSpyware – a next generation scanning system that goes beyond the typical rules based scanning methods. The Multi-Dimensional Scanning system detects existing threats as well as threats of the future by analyzing threat characteristics in addition to code patterns. Use the “Free” version of this app to manually scan your system for spyware. You can also get full details about SuperAntiSpyware [ HERE ] .

Spyware Blaster – can help keep your system secure, without interfering with the “good side” of the web. And unlike other programs, SpywareBlaster does not have to remain running in the background. It works alongside the programs you have to help secure your system. With the “Free” version, you will have to manually run the updates to keep your system sufficiently protected.

Firefox Browser – I currently test all of the main player browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer, Chrome, Opera, and Firefox).  I currently use Firefox as my main browser. You will find that most Techs are an advocate of Firefox.

Web of Trust (WOT) – WOT is a free Internet security add-on for your browser (Internet Explorer or Firefox) that will keep you safe from online scams, identity theft, spyware, spam, viruses and unreliable shopping sites. WOT warns you before you interact with a risky website. It’s easy and it’s free. If you do not install this, then I recommend you read the first item on my list (common sense). You can also get full details about WOT [ HERE ].

OpenDNS – I currently use OpenDNS as a layer of protection from web site phlishing; plus, by setting up an account with OpenDNS, I can use the built in Parental Controls to filter out and block what content reaches my computer. Installing or setting up OpenDNS can be intimidating to those with non-technical experience; however, I encourage you to read more about OpenDNS [ HERE ] .

Optional: I opted to list some additional protection, that I currently use, due to my ongoing testing of software and “test” visits to the underbelly of the internet.

Sandboxie – runs your programs in an isolated space which prevents them from making permanent changes to other programs and data in your computer. You can get full details about Sandboxie [ HERE ] .

Shadow Defender – This is the only software on the list that you would have to buy; however, if are someone who messes around with your system more than you should, then this may be for you.

With Shadow Defender you can run your system in a virtual environment, called Shadow Mode. Any software changes or malware attacks that occur, will occur in the virtual environment, not in the real environment. If attacks happen, all you need to do is to reboot your system.

I currently use Shadow Defender to test software products. I place the PC in shadow mode, install the software and perform my testing. Following my testing, I reboot and voila’, my computer is back to the original state it was prior to going into Shadow mode.

This is a guest post by Rick Robinette, who brings a background as a security/police officer professional, and as an information technology specialist to the Blogging world.

Why not pay a visit to Rick’s site at What’s On My PC. Like me, you’re sure to become a frequent visitor.


Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Antivirus Applications, Browser add-ons, Don't Get Hacked, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety, Software, Spyware - Adware Protection, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools