Ounce of Prevention

If you’re the recipient of a new Windows desktop or laptop this holiday season, chances are you’d rather spend time enjoying your gift instead of battling pop-ups or slow-downs from malware and spyware.

If you’re the IT Support person in your extended family (like me), then I’m sure you’d rather spend time with your friends, your family, maybe even your gifts… anything other than fixing someone else’s computer.

Either way, this article’s for you.

Below is a checklist of all the basic security-related apps I install when I fire up a new Windows box.  Ben Franklin’s saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” couldn’t be more true when it comes to basic computer security.  The checklist below represents my recommended ounce of prevention.

If you plan on giving (or receiving) a new Windows box this holiday season, then please consider this my gift to you and yours.

Happy Holidays!

 

Applications to Install

  • Firewall – Enabling and configuring your Windows Firewall is as a simple as clicking Start > Control Panel > Windows Firewall.  Comodo makes a pretty slick firewall for more advanced home users, if you’re feeling adventurous.
  • Anti-Malware – It’s hard to beat Microsoft Security Essentials when it comes to protecting a Windows box.  MSE is free, efficient, and effective.  You might consider AVG or avast! as third party alternatives, but MSE has my vote.
  • Anti-SpywareWindows Defender is a great app for preventing spyware from clogging up your machine.  I’m a huge fan of Spybot Search & Destroy also, although I tend to use Spybot more for cleanup than prevention.
  • Web Browser – Although Microsoft continues to improve the security of Internet Explorer, web browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome tend to be patched more quickly and more frequently.  Opera and Safari are also worth considering.
  • Privacy CCleaner from Piriform is a TERRIFIC tool for clearing private data from your Windows box. By selecting the Run & Open to Recycle Bin options during installation, you can remove all of your private web browsing data and temp data by right-clicking on the Recycle Bin icon.  You can also configure CCleaner to run each time Windows starts, automating the process.
  • Encrypted StorageTrueCrypt enables you to create an encrypted drive on your computer, a secure location where you can securely store your most sensitive data.  For laptop users, TrueCrypt is an absolute must, protecting that sensitive data in the event that your laptop is lost or stolen.
  • Password Manager – I’m a huge fan of LastPass, namely because I like it’s multi-browser / multi-platform support.  If you want to dig into your other options for password managers, though, feel free to give my previous post a read.
  • Location TrackingAdeona is an open source location tracking app for lost or stolen laptops.  You can even combine Adeona with an app like iSight to take screenshots of the person currently using your lost/stolen laptop.  Cool stuff!

 

Other Critical Steps

  • Apply ALL service packs and patches as soon as you can.  You can configure Windows to automatically download and install patches daily (say, 3am?) by clicking Start > Control Panel > Windows Update > Change Settings.
  • Rename the Administrator account, and create a new account for you to use.  Applying a password to both accounts is a must.  You can manage user accounts by clicking Start > Control Panel > User Accounts.
  • Disable the Guest account.  Again, Start > Control Panel > User Accounts.
  • Make sure your applications are patched.  While most malware used to target the Windows operating system itself, it’s more common for malware to target commonly installed applications like Microsoft Office, Quicktime, and Adobe Reader.  For a list of applications to definitely patch, check out this article.

 

One Last Step

·         If you’ve done everything else, but you want to verify that you haven’t missed anything, you could always run Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer.  This tool will scan your computer for security holes, as well as provide you instructions on how to fix them.

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