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Patrick Marshall and Seattle tech users tackle the marvels and frustrations of software, hardware, devices and the online world.

Home Computer Security Checklist

Postby Firewallguy on Wed Nov 24, 2010 12:15 pm

This is a list of 15 mostly free and low-cost things that consumers can do to protect home computers and family members on the Internet. The actions include using ISP security features, Windows update, a patch auditor, openDNS, email filtering, an up-to-date browser, a password manager, a two-way firewall, anti-malware, hard disk clean up and back up tools, a router, broadband, Windows 7 upgrade, and an Internet security suite.

ISP Offers? Use free or discounted Internet security services or software offered by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). These options may include spam and virus filters for an email account, and an Internet security software suite with firewall, antivirus, and more security features. Before installing ISP software, check for online reviews.

Windows Update? Use the free Microsoft / Windows update service every second Tuesday of the month. Hackers love out of date software. Note: If it has been awhile, run update and reboot, then run it again.

Patch Auditor? Use a free application security patch auditor like the Securia Online Software Inspector (OSI) at least once a month to check for security patches. For continuous coverage, download the Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI).

openDNS? Use the free openDNS service to filter everything entering your computer from the Internet. Free basic protection includes anti-phishing, anti-botnet, and more than 50 categories of web content filtering. Filter some or all, it’s up to the user.

Email Spam/Virus? Use email software and/or an online email service that has spam and virus filters. For more information, see our Email Hosting page.

Browser? Use an up-to-date Internet browser like Internet Explorer 8, Firefox 3.6, Opera 10.6, or Chrome 7. Be sure to use the built-in privacy and security features.

Passwords? Use a password manager like Lastpass. Can anyone remember even ten 12 digit passwords with numbers, symbols, lower and upper case letters like ^80enmfVC^6g ? A good password manager makes it easy.

Firewall? Use a two-way firewall. The one included in Windows is OK but one-way, incoming. There are good free two-way personal firewalls available like Checkpoint ZoneAlarm Firewall, Comodo Firewall Pro, Online Armor, PC Tools Firewall Plus, and PrivateFirewall. For reviews, see our Personal Firewall page.

Anti-Malware? Use anti-malware software that checks for viruses, spyware, Trojans, worms, key loggers, root kits, phishing... It may take two or more products to cover all of these threats. Top free combo choices include Panda Cloud Antivirus, avast! antivirus home edition, and Microsoft Essentials. All three include antivirus and anti-spyware features. OpenDNS (see above) includes anti-phishing, anti-botnet, and web content filtering.

HD Clean Up? Remove software applications that are never used. Try PC Decrapifier and Revo Uninstaller to help remove unwanted software. For cleaning temporary files, cookies, etc., try CCleaner.

Back Up? Back up important files. Try a free online service. Is the entire system backed up? Use a low-cost flash drive or external hard disk. Have a system repair disk? If needed, be very happy there is one.

Retail Items

Router? Use a low-cost hardware router with built in firewalls for to use with one to four computers, wired or wireless. Be sure to get one with NAT, SPI, WAPA… security features. For more information, see our wired and wireless router pages.

Broadband? Use an Internet service that is faster than dial-up (cable, dsl, etc.). Keeping a computer secure entails a lot of downloading of patches, updates, and utility software.

Windows Upgrade? Upgrade to Windows 7. Before purchasing, run the Microsoft upgrade advisor to see if it will work on your computer. Windows 7 is better accepted than Vista and much more secure than Windows XP.

Security Suite? An Internet security software suite can include a two-way firewall, anti-malware, anti-spam and more features in a single product. Top rated ones are available from Norton, Kaspersky, PC Tools, Webroot, ZoneAlarm and others. These products are not free. For reviews, see our Security Suites page.

Important Tips

Remove Old Software. To avoid problems, remove old security software before installing new security software even if the two products are from the same vendor. The free AppRemover utility enables the thorough uninstallation of security applications.

Just One, Not Two. To prevent problems, do not use two software firewalls or anti-malware products at the same time (unless the vendors say it is OK).
 
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Re: Home Computer Security Checklist

Postby patrickmarshall on Thu Nov 25, 2010 8:36 am

Thanks for posting this list! Excellent suggestions.

The only thing I'd caution users about here is that running two or more security programs -- especially antivirus programs -- often results in "false positives" or other glitches. That doesn't mean don't do it. It just means that if you run into problems check on that possibility first.
 
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Re: Home Computer Security Checklist

Postby Terrance on Fri Dec 03, 2010 4:05 pm

Another option is modifying your HOSTS file. For the past three or four years, the bad guys have taken up buying advertisements from well-known Internet entities such as Anandtech, and even once duped MSN Messenger, in order to do drive-by installs of malware. So even those of you who "surf safe" are still at risk. But if you block the servers that are trying to feed you malware via ads, the malware doesn't have a chance of reaching you.

MVPS.org has been providing a regularly-updated HOSTS file with all the bad URLs as they are discovered. You can get it (and learn more about it) at http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.htm

Bonus: this HOSTS file will also block nearly all advertisements, including Google's AdSense. So those big auto-expanding ads and pop-over screens and sudden shrills from your speakers will be gone. This also translates into faster web-surfing: if you're not downloading huge ads, the content you want finishes loading that much quicker. It's especially good for those who are still using a dial-up ISP.
 
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Re: Home Computer Security Checklist

Postby Hal J. on Sun Jan 23, 2011 6:07 am

No offense, but it is kinda silly to advise us to go online to read a review of software because we ARE online, here, hoping to read a review. I should be reading a review here rather than be referred to another website. Perhaps you should pick a major Puget Sound cable company and review its software.
 
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Re: Home Computer Security Checklist

Postby RG Stamford on Wed Mar 23, 2011 11:04 pm

Firewallguy wrote:Browser? Use an up-to-date Internet browser like Internet Explorer 8, Firefox 3.6, Opera 10.6, or Chrome 7.

None of those version numbers are the latest ones.

The latest version of Internet Explorer is 9. Firefox 4 just came out yesterday. Opera has hit Version 11, and Chrome has hit Version 10.

Windows Upgrade? Upgrade to Windows 7. Before purchasing, run the Microsoft upgrade advisor to see if it will work on your computer. Windows 7 is better accepted than Vista and much more secure than Windows XP.


A better idea is to switch to Ubuntu, a secure operating system built on the GNU userland and the Linux kernel. New Ubuntu releases come out every six months, and are absolutely free. You do not have to buy a whole new computer to get the latest version. Nor do you have to purchase a box containing a CD or DVD and sticker with a license key. Instead, when the upgrade becomes available, you click a button to upgrade and you get the latest technology. And after you've installed Ubuntu (which comes with an office suite preinstalled, unlike Windows), you can download thousands of games and applications for free from the Ubuntu Software Center. It's basically an app store for the desktop, except everything in it is available at no charge.
 
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Re: Home Computer Security Checklist

Postby Terrance on Sun Mar 27, 2011 9:04 pm

RG Stamford wrote:
Firewallguy wrote:Browser? Use an up-to-date Internet browser like Internet Explorer 8, Firefox 3.6, Opera 10.6, or Chrome 7.

None of those version numbers are the latest ones.

The latest version of Internet Explorer is 9. Firefox 4 just came out yesterday. Opera has hit Version 11, and Chrome has hit Version 10.


This is called neffing. None of those browser versions existed back in November.

Suggesting Ubuntu is simply trolling.
 
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Re: Home Computer Security Checklist

Postby rentoncoug on Mon May 09, 2011 4:06 pm

For some reason, i just don't like using norton antivirus... It feels too invasive, causes issues with installs etc, (last time I used it )..

The router suggestion is very good... Never would I use "raw" internet straight from a cable modem/similar device. I do it from time to time if I need to do a hardcore test, but no router makes me feel dirty and vulnerable, I hope not many people do this.

Currently, I'm still using my beloved DLink DIR 655, and I like it very much ! Most of today's router's give you a little firewall boost which is nice, and you can block wan pings, lock down access to your internet and more goodies depending on how advanced you want to lock down. http://reviews.cnet.com/routers/d-link-dir-655/4505-3319_7-32145084.html


the antivirus I recently switched to is (free) microsoft security essentials.
http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/security_essentials/default.aspx
After about a month, I'm liking it and put it on all 4 of my PC's.

Ad-Aware is another freebie that I will use and recommend from time to time.
http://www.lavasoft.com/products/ad_aware_free.php

I get a lot of 'tech support' calls from friends, I just don't have recurring the problems they have, it's a strange phenomenon. With some nasty / tough / unsolvable issues that occur sometimes, or the popular "my pc is now slow", these problems sometimes suck to diagnose. I recommend the operating system wipeout. Backup to USB external drive, and start from scratch. Makes my pc's just like new, and it's really good practice.. The average user out there cares about: pics,word docs, music, and video. Those are all back-up-able.

I think my lack of problems is probably a combo of a good router, safe internet habits ( knowing what's fake and what's real ), and at least some form of antivirus/malware/spyware tools.

Later !
 
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Re: Home Computer Security Checklist

Postby sbish on Fri May 11, 2012 1:57 am

Thanks, this very helpful!
 
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Re: Home Computer Security Checklist

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Re: Home Computer Security Checklist

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