Tighten up your Win­dows se­cu­rity

Step one in pro­tect­ing your home starts with your own PC.

APC Australia - - Superguide Secure Your Digital Ecosystem -

“If you de­cide to use free pro­tec­tion, you’ll be re­ly­ing on the Win­dows Fire­wall. It has all the tools you need to close the door to hack­ers, but it doesn’t use them fully.”

Let’s be­gin by tight­en­ing the se­cu­rity of the com­put­ers in your home. First, take a look at your se­cu­rity soft­ware. If you’re cur­rently us­ing Win­dows De­fender, we rec­om­mend that you switch to some­thing stronger. If you’re happy to rely on free pro­tec­tion, then Avira Free Se­cu­rity Suite ( www.avira.com) is an ex­cel­lent choice. It’s light on its feet, easy to use and gives you pro­tec­tion that matches many com­mer­cial prod­ucts. It in­cludes anti-mal­ware, sys­tem tune-up, a cloud-based pass­word man­ager, se­cure brows­ing, a vol­ume-limited VPN, web and search fil­ter, as well as a soft­ware up­date checker. Plus, you can man­age mul­ti­ple de­vices from a sin­gle desk­top. (For more in­for­ma­tion, check out our full re­view on page 58.)

Paid-for pro­tec­tion from the likes of Kasper­sky, Sy­man­tec and Nor­ton goes even fur­ther, and you can get dis­counts by buy­ing multi-com­puter li­cences to cover your whole house­hold. If go­ing down this route, keep an eye out for fre­quent deals — you can pur­chase th­ese any time of the year, then ap­ply them once your sub­scrip­tion has run out.

SE­CURE YOUR FIRE­WALL

If you de­cide to use free pro­tec­tion, you’ll be re­ly­ing on the Win­dows Fire­wall. It has all the tools you need to close the door to hack­ers, but it doesn’t use them fully. Win­dows Fire­wall mon­i­tors in­com­ing traf­fic from your net­work and the in­ter­net for po­ten­tial threats, but waves through all out­go­ing traf­fic from ap­pli­ca­tions with­out a sec­ond thought.

If you don’t have a third-party fire­wall in­stalled, then TinyWall ( tinywall.pa­dos.hu) gives you a way to use Win­dows Fire­wall as a two-way fire­wall. True, it needs a bit of con­fig­u­ra­tion to get work­ing, but our step-by-step guide on the op­po­site page re­veals all. The only caveat is that it can take some time be­fore all your soft­ware is work­ing cor­rectly — look out for failed up­dates and ap­pli­ca­tions com­plain­ing about not hav­ing enough ac­cess. If you recog­nise and trust the app in ques­tion, sim­ply fol­low the guide to add it to TinyWall’s whitelist.

Also note the po­ten­tial is­sues with shar­ing files and print­ers with other peo­ple — you can work around most of them, but if it’s too much has­sle, look for a paid-for so­lu­tion in­stead.

ADD MORE PRO­TEC­TION

What­ever se­cu­rity soft­ware you have in­stalled, there’s al­ways room for ex­tra help. You can start by in­stalling Mal­ware­bytes Anti-Mal­ware Free ( www.mal­ware­bytes.org), which can root out and re­move in­fec­tions missed by your main se­cu­rity soft­ware. The free ver­sion should be used to scan your sys­tem at least once a week, or pay for the Pre­mium ver­sion for real-time pro­tec­tion (with­out con­flict­ing with any of your other se­cu­rity tools).

If your se­cu­rity soft­ware doesn’t of­fer any pro­tec­tion against ran­somware, then in­stall BitDe­fender Anti-Ran­somware Tool ( www.bitde­fender.com/so­lu­tions/ anti-ran­somware-tool.html) to block four known ran­somware fam­i­lies. Ran­somware is par­tic­u­larly nasty mal­ware that en­crypts all the data on your hard drive, de­mand­ing you pay a hefty ran­som in re­turn for the key re­quired to un­lock it — which also re­lies upon the hon­esty of the crim­i­nal be­hind it. An­other way to pro­tect your­self is to reg­u­larly back up your data both off­site (the cloud) and on­site (an ex­ter­nal hard drive).

PRO­TECT YOUR DATA

Per­sonal files are price­less, but they’re also sen­si­tive. If you’re a lap­top user who takes their PC on the road, you should ask your­self how you would feel if your lap­top was stolen. The an­swer is to en­crypt your files, and that can be done a num­ber of ways de­pend­ing on where the data is stored.

If you’re car­ry­ing files on a USB thumb drive, the eas­i­est way is to cre­ate an en­crypted ‘con­tainer’ into which you place your most sen­si­tive files. The con­tainer is pass­word­pro­tected — sup­ply­ing the cor­rect pass­word un­locks the files within as a vir­tual disk drive, but oth­er­wise, they re­main hid­den and scram­bled. If this ap­proach ap­peals, take a look at Ro­hos Mini Drive ( www.ro­hos.com/ prod­ucts/ro­hos-mini-drive). This lets you to cre­ate vir­tual drives up to 8GB in size for free.

If you want to en­crypt your en­tire ma­chine, then Win­dows 10 Pro­fes­sional users should type “bit­locker” into the Search box to find out how to use Win­dows’ own en­cryp­tion tool. If you’re run­ning Win­dows 10 Home, then use Ver­aCrypt ( ver­acrypt.code­plex.com). You can use it ei­ther to cre­ate en­crypted vol­umes of lo­cally-stored data or en­crypt en­tire drives and par­ti­tions — see the ‘Sys­tem En­cryp­tion’ sec­tion of Ver­aCrypt’s doc­u­men­ta­tion.

Avira’s free se­cu­rity suite is a su­pe­rior al­ter­na­tive to Win­dows

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