Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Basic Computer Security for the Home User

Before I start with a list of do's and don'ts for the home computer user, please allow me to tell you a little bit about yourself. You are a mom, a dad, a grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, brother, sister, only child, neighbor, friend, rocker, jazz enthusiast, student, teacher, banker, purchasing agent, and somewhere between the age of 10 and 90 or so.

Regardless of which tag or tags describe you, there is one thing each of you have in common; that commonality being a home computer user. We all know that the cost of computers has come down over the years but that is no reason to jeopardize your investment.

So let's talk about basic computer security to protect your computer. Using the analogy that I started this blog with:

The best way to protect your garden is to fence it in.
The same applies to your computer.

What are the basics needs to fence in your computer?

1) Firewall

The purpose of a firewall is to block unauthorized access to your computer, yet allowing programs you allow access to the internet. The firewall is your first line of defense in protecting your computer and the data stored on it.

There are several basic firewall software programs that are free for personal use that I recommend. Each of those software vendors also have a full-featured licensed version available for purchase:
See Vista Compatible Firewalls for a broader selection of software firewalls.

For information beyond the basics, see the documents prepared by Microsoft:
In the case of a software firewall, two is not better than one. Only run one software firewall on your system. (Note: even if you are behind a router, you still need a software firewall.)

2) Security and Software Updates

Yes, I know. You have heard over and over that you need Microsoft Security Updates but what is this about other software? Software programs like Adobe Reader, Acrobat, Adobe Flash, SunJava, Firefox, Safari, and others also have security issues and need to be kept updated.

Start with Microsoft Security updates, issued the second Tuesday of each month:
How can you keep up to date with the other software on your computer? It certainly sounds like a daunting task. There is, however, a simple tool that will make it easier. To periodically check if your system is missing security updates or has insecure applications installed, visit http://secunia.com/software_inspector/. The Secunia Software Inspector runs through your browser with no installation or download required and does the following:
  • Detects insecure versions of applications installed
  • Verifies that all Microsoft patches are applied
  • Assists you in updating your system and applications
3) Antivirus Software

Just as a firewall is important to prevent unauthorized access, antivirus software is needed to help prevent your computer from being infected by viruses. You also need to keep your antivirus software regularly updated.

There are a couple of free antivirus software programs that I recommend to people with budget constraints:
My favorite subscription antivirus is ESET. Another excellent program is Kaspersky. See Vista Compatible Antivirus Software for a complete list. Only run only one antivirus software on your computer.

For more information about computer viruses, see Beyond the Basics: Viruses.

4) Anti-Malware and Monitoring Software

The word malware was created from a combination of malicious + software. Malicious software includes computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware, adware and other malicious and unwanted software.

Although there is somewhat of an overlap between anti-malware software and antivirus software, it is strongly recommended that you maintain an updated anti-malware software on your computer. Microsoft provides Windows Defender.

Another excellent choice is Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware (MBAM), which is free for personal use. MBAM also has a licensed version available which includes the Realtime Protection Module which uses an advanced heuristic scanning technology which monitors your system to keep it safe and secure.

There is one more program that is actually the first thing I install on my computers -- WinPatrol. Indeed, I would feel I was doing a disservice if I didn't mention WinPatrol, referred as "Scotty, the Windows Watchdog". WinPatrol was introduced in the days of Windows 95 and is compatible with every Windows Operating System, including Windows 7. WinPatrol is free for personal use and also has a one-time payment licensed Plus version. WinPatrol was the first software I installed on my Windows Vista computer. Bill Pytlovany, the developer of WinPatrol is also a Microsoft MVP.

The features listed below are the primary reason I use WinPatrol, described more fully at the Win Patrol Features page:
  • Delay Startup Programs
  • Warn if AutoUpdate Status Changes
  • Track Date/Time Programs are First Detected
  • Prevents Changes to File Type Associations
  • Keylogger Detection
  • Kill Multiple Tasks in One Step
  • Twenty Thousand Program Descriptions
  • Disable Vulnerable Active X Controls
  • Create Hijack Style Log Files
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I know that is a lot to digest, especially knowing it is just the basics for keeping your computer secure. Over the years, I have covered other topics of interest for the home user, including phishing, setting up a home network, online shopping safety, family safety (including child-safety sites & tips). If you are interested in additional security tips, there is broad collection in the month-long Cyber Security Awareness Tip of the Day series from last October.

To receive e-mail notices of new Security Garden posts, consider the subscription option in the left column.

Clubhouse Tags: Clubhouse, challenge-safe, family, security, security center, How-to,

Remember - "A day without laughter is a day wasted."
May the wind sing to you and the sun rise in your heart...


Maik said...

Excellent, easy-to-read article.

Secunia PSI (Personal Software Inspector) is also well worth a look, no need to (forget to) visit the website, it sits in your tray and auto-scans once a week.

shopping cart said...

Article made is flexible for the computer users to protect it in different security issues. i use many security tools for security purposes.

Fakhruddin40 said...

So valuable for me. I think that this article is useful for every person who use personal computer. I would try my best to secure my computer.

Plastic Card

John said...

A simply wow article... Although I would like to add just like you mentioned that only one Firewall should be applied on your computer, in the same goes for antivirus. People reading this article who are not well know to these tech details should know that you should not use more than one antivirus on the same computer although you can have one of each above mentioned security application or layer like firewall, antivirus, anti-malware app.. etc..
Antivirus Support

Unknown said...

These are really good. Excellent stuff. I also found some steps to secure Home Computer. Those are also good. But without using any Antivirus tools we can not defend the viruses.