Basic Computer Security

Computer security has become more and more center stage. This is in line with the predictions that following the massive effort to tackle Y2K, security would be the next Y2K. However, the focus and determination is not at the same level.

Unfortunately, users of MS-Windows operating systems remain the most vulnerable. Newer versions of Windows that will not run, or not run well on older PCs means that millions of PCs are running older versions of Windows that no longer have security updates. These PCs and uneducated users are the ones that cause the rest of the world many headaches.

There are several keys to making a Windows PC more secure. This is very important for Windows users that do not have Windows XP with SP2. If you have WinXP upgrade to SP2 immediately. For older versions of Windows upgrade to the latest security packs and turn on automatic updates. WinXP SP2 has a limited firewall, but older versions of Windows do not. A good free firewall is available from Kerio. If you have a broadband connection, such as a DSL or cable modem, it is also a good idea to have a router with a built-in firewall. A router also has multiple connections, so more than one PC can share the broadband modem. This makes your investment in broadband access more versatile.

The next important thing is to have an anti-virus program and keep it up-to-date. A great free anti-virus program with free updates is Grisoft Anti-Virus. It is free for home use.

Spyware is the newest form of “pestware”. All users of Windows will need an anti-spyware program. Spybot Search and Destroy is good – and free, and has free updates.

Another helpful tool is WinPatrol. It has a free version that keeps track of new programs installed on your PC, and alerts you to changes.

A more secure browser than Internet Explorer, is also crucial. Internet Explorer is required for only a handful of websites, more importantly the Windows Update site. Firefox or Opera are both free, and are both much more secure than IE.

Finally, a more secure email program will help save you from the viruses that so easily infect Windows. Thunderbird is a good choice, it is free and works on many different operating systems.

If you have Windows NT/2K/XP, do NOT run with full administrator privileges. This makes it easier for the viruses and other malware to infect your system.

For a much easier to secure computer, you will want to try a Linux distribution, one of the BSDs (Max OSX is based on BSD), or a free version of Unix, such as Solaris. All of these Unix-like operating systems are very similar, so learning one makes learning another much easier.

Unix-like systems are designed to be more secure and more stable (No need to re-boot when one program has a problem.). Most of them include a firewall that is fully functional on install. Firefox, Opera, and Thunderbird all have versions for these OSes. There is anti-virus software available for Unix-like OSes, but it is usually only needed if your PC is connected to a Windows PC. These OSes are designed to discourage running as administrator (root), and if root access is needed to install something, it is easy to temporarily operate as root without logging out of the current user account.

A Unix-like Operating System easily meets all of the needs of the general home user, except for the latest whiz-bang computer games that only run on Windows. There are a couple of options: 1.) Set up a dual-boot system and boot to Windows only for those tasks, such as games, you cannot do in *nix. 2.) Linux is designed to run on older hardware than Windows. Let the kids use the new PC for their PC games, but do not hook it to the internet. That alone will make it more secure.

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