7 Security Apps That Every Windows User Needs to Have

In December of 2011, Microsoft estimated that there were 1.25 billion Windows users worldwide.

Billion.

With Windows still dominating the desktop operating systems market share, the Internet has become a goldmine for criminals. All though’s PC’s, online 24 hours a day, 365 days a year…

Windows users don’t have to go running and screaming to Mac OS X to find a more secure operating system, although that is an option. Instead, Windows users could install a handful of security apps to close that gap. I’ve included my shortlist here at the top of the post, but feel free to read on if you want to understand the method to my madness. (The products I list are geared toward my home user readers, although the categories still apply for business owners.)


7 Security Apps That Every Windows User Needs to Have

  1. Antivirus – avast!
  2. Malware Cleanup – Malwarebytes (and maybe ComboFix)
  3. Firewall – Windows Firewall
  4. Encryption – TrueCrypt
  5. Backup – Duplicati
  6. System Hardening – Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA)
  7. Application Management – Secunia PSI


Antivirus

Let’s face it: no one security program is ever going to get the job done by itself. The secret to a secure computer is defense-in-depth, and antivirus is a critical security app. Period. While companies need to deploy a centralized AV solution to manage all the systems connected to their network, home users can get by with AV programs that are designated as “not for commercial use.”

With so many AV solutions to choose from, it’s difficult for home users to know which solution would best fit their needs. That’s why sites like AV-Comparitives exist. They’ve done all the hard work for you. If you want to make an informed decision before you install AV, check out the AV-Comparitives List of Awards.


Malware Cleanup

While antivirus is a great preventative control, sometimes it may need a little help in deleting nastiness that slipped through the perimeter. That’s where tools like Malwarebytes and ComboFix come in handy. There a few other malware cleanup tools that you may want to add to your arsenal, but these two should do the trick for now.


Firewall

Back in the day, I used to run ZoneAlarm on my home PC. When Microsoft finally got their $#!% together and decided to begin including Windows Firewall with every copy of Windows, I didn’t see the need to run another firewall app. Windows Firewall is rock simple, but it gets the job done. If you’re a more advanced user and you hate Windows Firewall with a passion, feel free to install something else entirely. God knows there are plenty of alternatives.

If you’re going to connect your Windows laptop to any network that you don’t trust (coffee shop, school, library, your neighbor’s wifi), a host-based firewall is an absolute must.


Encryption

TrueCrypt! I’m a TrueCrypt fanboy. There’s no shame in that. TrueCrypt lets you either encrypt your entire hard drive, or it lets you create an encrypted container where you can store your sensitive files. It also lets you encrypt data on removable media, like flash drives and external hard drives.

If you’ve ever lost a flash drive or had a laptop stolen, I don’t need to tell you how important encryption is. You’ve already learned that lesson the hard way.


Backup

Duplicati = free encrypted backups. Chances are you’re already doing some form of backup via Google Drive or Dropbox. If encrypted backups are your thing, though, Duplicati is where it’s at.


System Hardening

It’s one thing to install security apps on your Windows machine, but how can you tell if your Windows security settings are right in the first place? That’s where MBSA comes in handy. It scans your system and lets you know when you have a basic security setting misconfigured. Ignore the whole “for IT professionals” bit. I think every Windows user should run this app against their PC.


Application Management

PSI (Personal Software Inspector) scans your hard drive for any outdated apps. Since outdated usually means “full of security holes,” PSI goes out to the vendor website, downloads the latest version of the app, and installs it for you. The best part is that you don’t need to do anything! PSI does it all for you.

Two caveats. First, it might change the default program that opens an app if you have more than one program installed. For example, if you’re running both OpenOffice and Windows Office on your PC, it might flip .doc and .rtf files from one program to another. A simple Right Click > Open With will fix that, but you’ve been warned. Second, you may have apps installed that PSI doesn’t know how to update. When that happens, PSI will tell you to do it yourself. It’s kind of like when an escalator that temporarily becomes stairs. Again, just wanted you to know ahead of time.

Either way, the time this app saves, combined with the added security it applies to your system, is tremendous.

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