I often get asked by family and friends ‘What security should I use on my Windows PC?’. So I thought I would describe what I use. There are many packages around and you could some up with many different answers depending on your research but after a number of years this is what I use to protect against different threats. Most of the software is available as free versions with a bit more functionality with the paid version.
Some software I would not recommend unless you are computer literate and you understand how to respond to the alerts so I have split the software up into different levels depending on how computer literate you might be. The software listed here is for personal use and not corporate use as the software may not be appropriate for many different reasons including licensing or centralised management.
1. Anti-Virus Packages – Free/Paid
To start with I install an anti-virus package including firewall. There are many good packages around with plenty of reviews but I have tended to stick with Norton Internet Security over the years as the three pack version is good value and tends to be in the top three over many years. Norton operates in the background without any intervention and extra protection can be downloaded to protect younger children from accessing undesirable web sites.
Many other people are happy with the free AVG Anti-Virus protection.
2. Web Site Search and Reputation Notification – Free
Norton Internet Security comes with a browser bar for Firefox that provides a secure search and marks whether links in Google searches are OK to click. Symantec has not rated every web site and it does not rate every link on a page including those on Facebook. So I also install the free version of McAfee SiteAdvisor which gives a nice big green button on the bottom right of Firefox and rates every link on a Facebook page.
3. Don’t Lose Your Data – Free
I keep on hearing ‘I have lost my USB key’ or ‘My laptop disk has been corrupted’ with work irretrievably lost… but there is no need for this to happen. There are lots of free cloud storage options available that automatically create a backup copy of your data onto the Internet.
I use Dropbox as it has versions of software for Android and iPhones with 2GB of free space. On my Android phone I can view and edit most documents and for essential documents I create PDF copies that can always be viewed. It also keeps versions for the 30 days so that even if a document becomes corrupted you can recover a previous uncorrupted version using the web interface.
Dropbox has lots of other great features including automatic backup of photos on your phone and folders that can be shared with other friends. There is no need to email large files or lose any of your data again.
If you run out of space, there is always Google Drive with 5GB free or Windows SkyDrive with 7GB free space to store files you use less often.
4. Protecting Passwords – Free
I have literally hundreds of passwords and every password is unique to the web site I use but I would never remember each of them without compromising the strength of security. For years I have been using KeePass to store all my passwords as it is available on many different platforms and can be shared with an iPhone and Android phone using Dropbox. Make sure you use a long and strong password that cannot be easily discovered.
The Next Level
5. Blocking Malicious Sites – Free/Paid
For a number of years I have also used Spybot S&D as it has feature to ‘immunise’ a PC to block malicious web sites and a scanner that looks for other malicious content not included in Norton Anti-Virus. There is a free version that can be run manually which is why it is a good idea to have it installed.
6. Protecting Your Key Strokes – Free/Paid
The next is protection against programs that might log your key strokes and record passwords. There are many trojan horse programs on the internet that will record passwords for banking sites or use captured information to steal your identity. I use Zemana AntiLogger to detect whether a program is trying to record key strokes. It recognises legitimate programs such as TeamViewer that record key strokes to share screens.
There is a basic free version that can be installed and it can be setup to operate silently on PCs used by users that are not so computer literate. If you want to purchase the paid version – search for discount codes to get up to 40% off the price.
7. Stop Tracking – Free
Many web sites track you and build up a picture of where you go on the Internet. This can be used for customising adverts and other content presented back to you. Research has shown that through your actions other more personal traits can be derived. If you want to block this tracking then install Ghostery in your web browser. You can select what sites you want to track you.
8. Protecting Confidential Data – Free/Paid
Laptops and USB drives can be so easily to be lost or stolen with a resulting risk to confidential data. Your PC may contain personal information about yourself and if you have personal data about others you have a legal requirement to protect the data.
If you have to use a USB key to transfer data then purchase one that encrypts the data automatically. Many of the hardware encrypting USB keys are expensive but one that I have used for a reasonable price is from Integral that can be used without Administrator privileges.
If you want to encrypt a single file or a folder that can be emailed with a password then use free software such as 7-Zip.
9. Full Disk Encryption – Free
If you want to encrypt a large amount of data or encrypt the whole disk on a PC (and you do not have BitLocker) then you can do this for free with TrueCrypt. Just make sure you backup all your data (perhaps to Dropbox) before you encrypt the drive.
Many threats come from scripts being run in browsers and you can control what is being run by the Firefox with the plug-in NoScript. It turns off scripts by default and you have to be selective what you turn back on.