One of the most asked questions I receive is how do I make my home PC more secure when connecting to the internet. The second is how much will it cost.
The answer is that you only need to install a few free software programs to make your PC more secure for internet access.
Most security software vendors offer free versions of their popular products to home users. These free versions are just as good as the paid-for versions. The difference is you don’t get any support, or any extras. A lack of support is not really a problem if you know how to access the vendors own on-line support pages, or use the power of Google.
So what PC security software do I need?
First you need a software firewall. This monitors and controls all connections between your PC and the internet. Any programs that wishes to access the internet from your PC must first gain your permission, and anything on the internet that wishes to access your PC must also be permitted by you beforehand, otherwise it is ignored.
Microsoft Windows XP SP2+ and Microsoft Windows Vista both come with a free firewall named simply “Windows Firewall”. To make sure that it is enabled, go to the Control Panel and double-click Windows Firewall and set it to enabled. I would never advise anyone to connect their PC to the internet without a software firewall being enabled.
There is a great third-party software firewall that I use, also free, called Comodo Personal Firewall from personalfirewall.comodo.com. Comodo gives you far more control than Windows Firewall but it is for advanced users.
Every PC should have anti-virus software installed. Not a day goes by without new computer viruses being discovered. There are lots of anti-virus products on the market, but my current favourite is AVG from Grisoft at free.avg.com. It also comes with an email scanner.
Spyware originally just referred to software that monitored your computer usage, reporting back to a third party. These days it is a generic term for “malware” meaning malicious software. Malware is a classification for bad software that is not necessarily a virus, and is not usually removed by anti-virus software. Malware includes but is not limited to: Adware (software that serves you annoying adverts), Browser hijackers (re-directs you to web pages that you never asked to go to), Trojan dialers (software that hijacks your modem and connects you to premium rate numbers), Key loggers (software that records keyboard use) and Fake security software (software that says it has found malware or viruses on your PC that don’t exist and offers to remove them for a fee).
The best free spyware removal software that I have come across is Spybot Search & Destroy from http://www.safer-networking.org. This software can detect attempted installs of known malware and remove malware that is already installed.
Web browser protection
A web browser is required to surf the web and there are several choices available, but only one that I recommend for safe surfing, Mozilla Firefox with the NOSCRIPT plug-in. You can download Firefox from http://www.mozilla.com/firefox. Once installed you can install the NOSCRIPT plug-in from noscript.net/getit.
NOSCRIPT adds a control bar to the bottom of your Firefox window. Now every time you visit a web site, scripting is disabled by default. What this means is that no web site can run scripts or show content that requires programs such as Java or Flash, unless you give it permission to.
The price you pay for this extra level of browser security is web pages with missing content. You have to use the NOSCRIPT options button to grant them – or their third-party partner sites – permission (temporarily or permanently) to run scripts and to access Java or Flash.
With the majority of malicious software gaining access to your PC through your web browser, a little extra work when surfing the net is not much to have to put up with, especially if it means your PC will be that little bit more secure.