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Nilesh D Kapadia


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Keeping a Windows PC safe

In this entry, I list various tools that can be used to keep a Windows PC safe. This includes anti-virus, firewalls, and anti-adware/spyware/malware utilities. I also describe some proactive strategies for keeping your PC out of trouble.

Anti-Virus


If you are a Windows user and need virus protection for your home PC, these are the free anti-virus programs that I am aware of:
AVG
AntiVir
Avast!
They are free only for non-commercial use. They all provide real-time protection meaning they will scan files for viruses before you access them.

There is also ClamWin which uses the free and open source ClamAV, meaning you can use it for free in any situation, commercial or non-commercial use. The downside is that there is no real-time protection. It can only scan files. This solution is only recommended if you are careful enough and good at recogizing when a file may potentially have a virus. Simply set up a daily scan and scan any files that are potentially dangerous before executing them. The upside is this does not have the performance penalty of a real-time scanner.

If you choose to buy anti-virus software, Norton AntiVirus is no longer recommended. In addition to the pro versions of the free ones listed above, take a look at the products of these two companies who have been receiving favorable review:
F-Secure
TrendMicro
NOD32


Firewall



It's always best to have a hardware firewall between your Windows PC and your Internet connection. The typical cable/DSL router has a hardware firewall (e.g. Linksys, Netgear, Belkin). Before even connecting a new PC to the Internet, you want to have some kind of firewall in place otherwise you will be infected with a virus in literally minutes after you connect your PC to the Internet. Unfortunately this can be a catch-22 sometimes because software firewalls need to be downloaded. Therefore a hardware firewall gives you that extra bit of protection.

Note that using a Linux/BSD firewall is as (or more) effective as using a cable/DSL router as a firewall. But that requires much more effort and knowledge to setup and maintain.

If you have Windows XP w/ Service Pack 2 installed, this comes with a firewall. If you don't have Service Pack 2 installed, nows the time to install it.

If you have Windows version older than XP, then you can install a personal firewall such as the free version of ZoneAlarm. There is also a pro version of that you can buy.



Adware/Spyware/Malware



Adware/spyware/malware can be just as harmful as viruses. Some can even be considered viruses. Here is some info I put together on detection and removal of adware/spyware the last time I had to clean up a Windows machine. It might be out of date by now (may not cover all the newer uglier spyware), but should still be helpful.

Location of tools to download:

Ad-Aware - http://www.lavasoftusa.com/support/download/
Spybot - http://spybot.safer-networking.de/
SpySweeper - http://www.webroot.com/
CWS Shredder - http://www.spywareinfo.com/~merijn/downloads.html

IMPORTANT HINT: reboot in SAFE MODE and run these tools and other tasks from there.

Always have the latest versions of these utilities. Use the "check for updates" feature on any of these utilities if they have them.

After you are in safe mode, install Ad-Aware, Spybot, and SpySweeper and run a scan of your system with each utility, removing whatever these utilities find. CWS Shredder is a standalone exe that does not need to be installed, simply run it and use the "Fix" option.

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While in safe mode, go ahead and run a full system scan with any antivirus software you may have. Make sure you have the latest virus definitions!

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Note that after you've been infected, there is always the chance that you may still be infected, even after taking all these steps. Be on the lookout for any further suspicious behavior, and run these utilities with the latest versions from time to time. There are also utilities that can be installed that will continually watch for potential spyware activity; it may be a good idea to install such a utility.

Also, it may be a good idea to look at ways to lock down a system. One step you can take is to avoid running as a user with Administrator access. Run as a user with restricted access if possible. Though there are many Windows applications that won't work unless you are running as an Administrator.

Further reading:
http://www.dslreports.com/faq/8428

An article which may help you use REGEDIT:
http://www.winguides.com/article.php?id=1&guide=registry

Note that if the utilities only find cookies, you have nothing to worry about, you aren't infected with anything. Cookies are pretty much harmless.



Prevention


Now that I've listed all the reactive strategies for keeping your Windows PC safe, it's important to know the proactive strategies that help you stay clear of danger.


NOIEFirst and foremost, DO NOT USE INTERNET EXPLORER. This is probably the most dangerous thing you can do on your Windows PC. Internet Explorer is responsible for most of the viruses, spyware, adware, and malware infecting Windows PC. The only thing you should be using it for is Windows Update. Use a modern browser like Firefox (or even Opera if you like that better); not only will you be much safer, your browsing experience will be better.

Keep up-to-date with your updates. Make sure Windows Update is enabled. Make sure any software that connects to the Internet is kept up-to-date (browsers, IM clients, e-mail programs, etc). Firefox 2.0 has a good auto-update mechanism (nows a good time to upgrade to the latest Firefox if you haven't already).

Don't open e-mail attachments that seem suspect, and definitely don't execute any e-mail attachment. In general, you should scrutinize any e-mail that you receive. Be weary of clicking on links in an e-mail. Never click on a link for your bank, Ebay, PayPal, etc. Always go to the site yourself from your browser, especially when the message seems suspect.

Don't run as a superuser. The less privledges the user you are using has, the less damage a trojan attack can do. Though this is commonplace in most other operating systems due to being designed from the beginning that way, it is easier said than done in Windows since many applications require you to be superuser. So if you can run as a less-privledged user, do it, but this may not be possible due to some applications.

Do you really need to be using Windows? Is there anything really Windows-specific that you are doing with your computer? Maybe an Apple Mac would be a better choice since it is more secure by design and would allow you to avoid the hassles of viruses and spyware. If you already own a PC and you're technically inclined, maybe Linux would be a more appropriate operating system for you. Linux doesn't have to be your main OS; if you have an extra PC, you can install Linux on it for doing anything that needs to be secure. For example, I only do online banking from my Linux PC.

© 2017 Nilesh D Kapadia