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Securing a Home PC

Essential Items that everyone should do:

1.       Use a firewall Ė If you have a complete security suite like Symantec, use the firewall included in that suite. If not, turn on the Windows Firewall. Start/Settings/Control Panel/Windows Firewall.

2.       Turn on Automatic Updates for Windows. Open Internet Explorer and click on Tools/Windows Updates. On the right side of the window the site will tell you whether Automatic Updates is on or off and how to pick a time to install updates. You do not need to leave the computer on all night, it will update the next time it is turned on.

3.       Install an Anti-Virus software package. AND MAKE SURE IT IS UPDATED REGULARLY! If you had an AV software installed when you bought your computer, make sure you are paying for and receiving the updates. An outdated AV is worse than no AV!  There are some decent free packages available: Anti-vir (www.free-av.com), AVG Free (free.grisoft.com) Avast Home Edition (www.avast.com), ClamAV (www.clamwin.com).  It is not advisable to run 2 AV programs at one time, this can decrease performance in a dramatic and undesired way.

4.       Use a Local Hosts file from a site like www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.htm. This will keep your computer from being able to contact over 16,000 sites that distribute software called malware that can steal your personal information, user accounts and passwords. About Ĺ way down the page there is a folder icon with a link to download the hosts.zip file. Download that file, open it on your computer and extract the hosts file and mvps.bat files to your desktop and doubleclick the mvps.bat file. That is all there is to it.

5.       Run Secunia Personal Software Inspector (www.secunia.com). It is free and it will tell you when you need to update your other software (Adobe Acrobat, Firefox, Java, Quicktime, RealPlayer, etc). There have been some significant vulnerabilities in all of these applications in the past 6 months.

6.       Educate yourself on what Phishing is and donít become a victim.

7.       Donít click on links in e-mail, use a bookmark or retype the URL instead.

8.       Donít give out your password to anyone, ever, for any reason. Real technical support people can change your password and tell YOU what it is.

9.       Never enter your password into a site that is not using HTTPS (look at the URL and make sure there is a lock in the lower right corner).

10. Create an everyday User account that you use that is NOT an administrator account and use it most of the time. You should not use the administrator account or an administrator-equivalent account unless you really need to. This may cause problems with some older software and you may find that you cannot accomplish this.

Optional items that most should do as it adds significant layers of protection with no cost.

1.       Install Firefox (www.mozilla.com). It is free and will protect you from many exploits that are specific to Internet Explorer.  Internet Explorer is the most exploited browser, if you can avoid using it for daily browsing you will have a more secure system.  (You must keep Firefox updated, too!) If you are using any version less than 3.0.5, you must upgrade. Version 1.x.x and 2.x.x support has ended.

2.       Firefox has many plug-ins (also called extensions) that can also help you protect your system. The following are highly recommended: NoScript, AdBlock Plus, and Flashblock. These all disable some functionality on some websites, but they do this to stop your system from being infected without you knowing about it. You might have to change a few settings here and there to make some sites work correctly. (Tools/Add-ons/Get Extensions from within FireFox and then search for these extensions.)

3.       Install McAfee Site Advisor (www.siteadvisor.com). If you installed Firefox as recommended above, you will want to install both the Firefox version and the IE version so that you are alerted when you use either browser. Site Advisor will warn you of malicious sites when you are searching for sites using Google or other search engines. Just watch for the green check or the red X when searching.

4.       Download anti-spyware applications that are also available to help clean up or stop new infections like Malwarebytes, Windows Defender (www.microsoft.com/protect/default.mspx), AdAware (www.lavasoft.com), Spybot Search and Destroy (www.spybot.com) and HiJackThis (www.trendsecure.com.com).

My favorite tools (available at no cost).

SecCheck from MyNetWatchman.com: tells you what is running on your computer and helps determine what malware might be installed and causing problems.

Virustotal.com: site that allows you to upload suspicious files to tell you whether it is malware or a legitimate program.

KeePass (keepass.info): software that lets you keep track of all of the passwords you have.

TrueCrypt (truecrypt.org): software that lets you encrypt your valuable data to protect you from identity theft.

HashTab (beeblebrox.org): software that calculates SHA1 and MD5 hashes from any file by adding a tab to the Properties section of Explorer or MyComputer. Handy to verify the file you downloaded is really the same one that you think it is.

www.lightspeedguide.com has a free package that you can download and it does a pretty reasonable job of filtering your Internet access to the appropriate sites for your kids

CNET.com A good, safe place to download various tools.


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