Secure My Computer

A secure computer is important, but many people don’t know how to protect themselves.
Many end up paying for Anti-virus systems that cost a fortune and do not work as well as the free ones (from my experience).

This post is for those people that would like some pointers on what to do to reduce your chance of having malware, viruses or even your computer being taken over completely.

You may have noticed I used the words “REDUCE your chance”.
None of this guaranteed, the only guaranteed method is to never use a computer which isn’t an option for most people.

This is due to consistent Zero Day vulnerabilities (problems that anti-virus don’t know about yet) in operating systems/browsers/documents or anything else in a computer.
So even if you do everything correct, you can still get infected.

System setup:

My examples here are for Windows users.

Never use a new operating system.
The new Windows 8 operating system is coming out, and like all new operating systems, it will have many bugs and security issues that have not be found yet. So down grade your operating system if you are on 8.
Windows 7 is in a good state and Windows XP (but is only support for another 1 ½ years)
If you are further back than that, then your operating system is no longer supported by Microsoft and will not release any further security updates. And if you are on Vista, what are you doing!

When you setup your computer, first thing you do is download any updates that are available. (Don’t login to your email or facebook, you are not secure yet)

Next install your anti-virus.
Windows offers a free one that is doesn’t publicise yet but is very good
http://windows.microsoft.com/en-GB/windows/security-essentials-download
The only other one I would recommend instead is
http://www.avast.com/index
It has a free package but the paid option provides a sandbox which lets you surf the web virtually so nothing is stored on your computer after.

View your programs list and uninstall anything that you don’t plan to use.
Even on new computers, they give you free programs that you will never use so this is the time to clean it up.
If you see Java in the list, uninstall it. There have been major security problems recently and it is likely you will not needed it. If you do need it, you can install it again later.

Your computer at this point should not be infected as you have not done anything that I haven’t listed above, HAVE YOU!!!

Not that I don’t trust you, but lets run a full security scan at this point.
So open the anti-virus you now have and do a full scan.

After this, setup your anti-virus to run at times you do not use your computer, usually during the night if you do not switch your computer off.

An additional option is to encrypt your whole harddrive. I would only recommend this for reasonably new computers that are of a good spec as this could slow down your computer.
Full information available here

Now that is done, you should have no need to use the administrator login regularly.
Create a new user for yourself (not administrator). Yes, when you use your own computer, you will not be the administrator, only a user.
This will mean that your account can’t download certain things to your computer without the administrator password.
This does means that you have 2 passwords to the same computer, but when anything needs to be executed on your computer, you will be asked for the other password therefore allowing you to stop that program at that point.
Set this users security at a very high point in the User Account Control

Now you only use this user account for all your everyday needs.

Browsing:

Never use IE (Internet Explorer). It has advanced access to your file system and often has security problems.
Instead use Firefox or Chrome.
I prefer Firefox due to a large number of plugins that I need.

Also you can add this plugin that allows you to disable flash, javascript and java running in your browser and only turn it on when you need it:
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/quickjava/

You could also block adds with an add blocker, but if everyone does this then the free internet goes away with no companies being able to generate money this way and may have to charge users to use their website in future. But if we talking about security, it is useful.
http://adblockplus.org/en/

Storing sensitive data:

Anything that needs to be secure should be encrypted.

This is easy with free tools online like http://www.truecrypt.org/downloads

So even if you computer becomes compromised and someone gets your sensitive files, they are encrypted strongly so they cannot get the data out without the password.

PDF

For some reason Adobe Reader sets Javascript as ‘On’ by default (I have never seen a PDF with javascript in it) and it is a security issue so disable that.

  • Launch Acrobat or Adobe Reader.
  • Select Edit>Preferences
  • Select the JavaScript Category
  • Uncheck the ‘Enable Acrobat JavaScript’ option
  • Click OK

Super security:

Spybot Search & Destroy (Free)
http://www.safer-networking.org/dl/

KeyScrambler (Free)
http://www.qfxsoftware.com/download.htm

Malwarebytes (Free)
http://www.malwarebytes.org/

ShieldsUP (Free, checks open ports)
https://www.grc.com/x/ne.dll?bh0bkyd2

General Usage:

Never install anything on your computer that you didn’t ask to be installed (that means read the popups that want you to say “OK” so you can continue)

Never open any documents that you don’t expect to be sent to you or that you don’t know who sent them. Spearphishing (Pretending to be someone or a service you use) is a problem, so if your friend emails you about cheap Viagra, it is probably not something they actually sent you.

Don’t click advertisements on websites you don’t trust. No matter how attractive they seem “Win a new iPad”, if its too good to be true, it is. You will be directed to web pages that you didn’t ask for and those pages could have malicious code on them.

Backup:

If your harddrive breaks, your computer gets stolen or for any other reason you can’t get your computer to work, you will wish that you have backed up all those important documents and images. You should have a backup that is not in your house as a fire would destroy your computer and the backup drives you have.
Most good services charge for backup so if your files on your computer are worth more to you than the subscription costs to back them up, you should use one.

For Example:

Carbonite (Free trial)
http://www.carbonite.com

Dropbox (Free upto 2Gb)
https://www.dropbox.com/

If you are interested in more advanced Computer Security I would recommend listening to the Security Now podcast http://twit.tv/sn as they keep current on the latest security threats and have covered many of the points mentioned here.

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