The Finance Corner: Protect Your Computer For Free
I used to be a person who would purchase the latest Norton Internet Security or Norton Anti-Virus to protect my computer from the maladies of the internet every year. Some of you may prefer McAfee or PC-cillin, but the common factor is that most people pay for an anti-virus subscription each year, and the common mistake is that you don’t have to. Actually, it would be better for you if you stopped. I will show you my favorite ways to protect your computer from viruses and mal-ware, all of which are free, and are almost universally more effective than the leading anti-virus software. Further, enhanced protection saves you money: if your computer does become terribly infected it can be costly to hire a professional to clean and repair your computer. All of these programs are free for personal use, but some require payment for company use.
This is your most common defense against the virus world. Most people pay for these programs, but I have found through much trial and error that most major anti-virus programs are bloated resource hogs, even on powerful computers. They can drag your computer to a crawl. Further, they can often be far less effective than other freeware Anti-virus programs. The top most widely used free anti-virus programs are AVG Anti-virus and AVAST!. I use AVAST! on my home computer, so I will focus on that.
User Skill Level Required: Basic
Along with the standard scan functionality and real-time system monitoring, AVAST! also scans all activity coming into the computer (email, web, P2P, chat, ect.) for viruses. Further, they have a great feature to back up data on your system. AVAST! is able to scan all the files on your computer and if any of them become infected in the future, it can replace the infected file with an earlier version of the file sans infection.
Think of your firewall as the fence around our house, protecting your property from the outside world. If you don’t have a firewall, then people have much easier access to your house. They might not get in, but the get much closer then you would like. Firewalls range in difference from your standard white picket fence to Death Star planetary shield generator guarded by stormtroopers. The stronger the firewall, the better. The top two best free Firewalls are ZoneAlarm and Comodo Firewall. My pick is Comodo Firewall, but I will say that it is for more advanced techies.
User Skill Level Required: Advanced
Comodo is the uber-firewall, with all the settings and options that one could wish for. It monitors all incoming and outgoing traffic for your computer. This is VERY important. A firewall that only monitors incoming traffic is not doing a good job, though this may seem counter-intuitive. Imagine that you somehow get a bad program on your computer that wants to send your passwords to someone somewhere else. That outgoing traffic needs to be detected and stopped to protect your privacy. Comodo lets you set incoming and outgoing preferences for every program on your computer if you want. You can isolate and allow or block specific ports, set your general protection level, and Comodo has a learning feature so it learns what programs you use most and how they function so that it does not interfere with their communication. Lastly, if there is ANY activity that Comodo has not encountered before or you have not already told Comodo about, it will pop up with a description of the connection and let you choose to allow or deny the connection, and the option of using the same choice in the future for the same connections. So when you first start using Comodo, it is a bit annoying seeing all the pop-ups for security alerts, but as it learns your habits Comodo fades into the background and only occasionally shows its face.
These programs are the butlers of your computer, because they clean your house. When a bad program or other malady somehow slips past your anti-virus or firewall, these programs should pick them up and destroy them. All the best programs in the category function well together, so I recommend downloading and installing all of the following programs, updating and running scans of your computer weekly. All of these only require a basic user level to update and run the programs.
Spy-bot Search & Destroy – This program watches for spy-ware that aim to gather your surfing and computer habits and pass them on to another party. Make sure to not only scan your computer often, but also make use of the active real-time scanning function to prevent bad programs and the Immunize function, which puts up preventative measures to block future infections.
Ad-Aware – This program watches for programs that mine your personal data for advertisement purposes. These programs can also be responsible for pop-up adds when surfing the web.
SUPERAntiSpyware – This program does what both the above two programs do, but looks for different baddies on your system, so it is good to use all of them.
Internet Browser Safety
Firstly, the browser you use can make a big difference in your computer safety. The more obscure the browser (typically) the more secure it is since exploits are typically focused toward the most widely used browsers. Internet Explorer is the most widely used, and thus the most widely exploited browser. I recommend Firefox. It is not the most obscure browser, or the most inherently safe browser, but the extensions that you can add on to firefox makes firefox a much better option than the more obscure browsers. Other good options are Google Chrome and Safari.
Firefox – Good for safety and great for extendability.
Firefox Extensions to enhance security
All Firefox extensions can be found on the firefox website listed above.
BetterPrivacy – This add-on restricts Flash-cookie access to your computer and gives you options for handling new cookies. Cookies are tiny files that each website leaves on your computer with the website preferences and is a widely exploited method of covert data gathering.
BlackSheep – Only useful if you are using a wireless internet connection. It watches to see if anyone is using FireSheep, a powerful program used to hijack your wireless signal and steal any and all info you are transmitting wirelessly.
CS Lite – Similar to BetterPrivacy, but focuses on normal cookie, not Flash-cookies.
Download Statusbar – Moves all your downloads into a status bar instead of just a new window, but in addition you can set the options to scan every file you download with the anti-virus program you use.
NoScript – This is the single most important add-on, but it also requires some getting used to. This extension blocks flash programs online until you allow them. It also blocks several other more obscure attack types.
Redirect Remover – This add-on keeps websites from hijacking your surfing to redirect you to another website. You can choose to allow the redirect, but by default it is blocked.
Secure Login – This keeps all of your saved passwords and usernames secure. When you choose the option to auto-login to a website, the website gets access to your password list and you are trusting them to only use the password for their site. This add-on keeps the site from auto-pulling your passwords and lets you choose to auto enter the password when you want to with the simple click of an icon.
WOT – Finally, this isnt exactly a preventative add-on, but it gives you the safety description for websites you visit. If you are visiting an unsecure dangerous website WOT will let you know what to be wary of. You can still go to the website, but you will have the option to avoid the dangerous sites if you like.
There is one program that does not fit into any of the other categories. Sandboxie is just about the ultimate protection for websurfing. It essentially creates a mini-computer within your computer and you can run programs in this tiny environment. Nothing can get out of the tiny environment you set (unless you specifically set exceptions) and when you are done with sandboxie, the tiny environment is destroyed and wiped off your computer. So you could download all the viruses you want while using Sandboxie and they will be gone when you finish using it.
Question of the Day: What security precautions do you currently use?