Tighten up your Windows security
Step one in protecting your home starts with your own PC.
“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