Think Of That: Home PC Security

Think Of That

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Saturday, January 22, 2005

Home PC Security

As promised in my previous post, I would like to share with the readers of this Blog a few tips I learned over the years on how to protect your home computer from the threats that lurk on the Internet, waiting to invade your PC once you go online. I must emphasize the term home computer because the methods of protecting your pc at work (which is usually connected to a local network) is far more complicated and should be left to the person in charge of doing so: the system administrator.


The first thing you need to understand is that there are 3 kinds of threats you might be subject to when connecting to the Internet:

  • Viruses/Worms: Viruses usually infect your PC after running an infected program downloaded from the net or received by email or by any other medium (Floppy, CD,…). Worms are sneakier and you could be infected just by running an un-patched version of Windows or Outlook/Outlook Express.
  • Hackers/Crackers/Script Kiddies: These individuals hack into home PCs just for the fun of it or to take control of them and use them for their own devilish intentions, usually to hack other computers or send spam emails through them.
  • Adware/Spyware/Malware/Dialers…etc: These nasty little programs infect the PC without the user’s knowledge when browsing some websites or when installing some freeware. They are usually not as harmful as viruses (that might delete entire hard disks) but they will divulge personal information from the user’s computer to third party individuals, slow the internet connection down … and sometimes crash the computer altogether.
The solution: To protect your PC from these threats, you will need to install 3 kinds of programs:
  • Antivirus programs: Antivirus programs detect and remove viruses and worms from your PC but they have to be updated weekly, if not daily, for best results. They will usually scan your hard disk at installation and continue to protect it automatically while running in the background. Most can be configured to automatically download and install new updates when you’re connected to the Internet. The most well-known Antivirus programs are Norton Antivirus (www.symantec.com) and McAfee Virus Scan (www.mcafee.com). You can also find free antivirus programs here.
  • Firewall programs: Firewall programs prevent hackers from getting into you PC by closing all the ports left open by the operating system and allow you to take control of the programs you wish to prevent from accessing the net. Windows XP has a built-in firewall program but I prefer using the more powerful and free ZoneAlarm (www.zonelabs.com).
  • Adware/Spyware/Malware removal tools: Two programs come to mind when thinking about adware: Ad-Aware (www.lavasoft.de) and Spybot - Search & Destroy (www.spybot.info); both are free and most reviews recommend installing them both for best protection. Like antivirus programs, they must be updated frequently.
Finally, I recommend turning Automatic Updates on and using an alternative browser than Internet Explorer which is more vulnerable to security breaches. I use Mozilla Firefox (www.mozilla.org) but you can use Opera as well (www.opera.com).

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