Stay infection and clutter-free
You’ve disinfected your PC and cleared off a load of junk – now it’s time to strengthen your security and keep the clutter from your machine
You’ve reclaimed control of your PC and banished malware along with unwanted software and other useless files. How can you protect yourself – and keep your PC clutter-free – going forward? Let’s start with security. These days, threats to your computer come in many shapes and forms. In spite of the best efforts of security vendors, there’s no one-size-fits-all-approach to protecting your PC, so examine what threats are out there and – crucially – how to protect yourself against them.
Malware is a constantly evolving beast, from its humble beginnings as a virus – a piece of code that replicated itself to spread havoc. The virus became a worm – a standalone program that can cause damage as well as spread, which in turn became a Trojan, which appears legit but in fact carries a nasty payload.
The payloads have changed too, from simply downloading more software to deleting files on your storage drive to now locking you out of your PC or your files through encryption in the form of ransomware. Then there’s spyware, backdoor infections, rootkits, zero-day exploits… Need we go on?
The key thing is to protect yourself against them. How you protect your PC is up to you, but if you’re serious about security, don’t rely on Windows Defender and the built-in Windows Firewall. Either splash out on a featurepacked, but resource-friendly suite, such as Norton, or mix and match a selection of free anti-malware tools.
Start with Bitdefender Antivirus Free (www.bitdefender.co.uk/solutions/free. html) and ZoneAlarm Free Firewall (www.zonealarm.com/software/ free-firewall/). ZoneAlarm lets you block threats from communicating with the outside world – something the Windows Firewall doesn’t do by default. It’s pernickety about which anti-virus apps it’ll work with, but Bitdefender is fine.
After installing ZoneAlarm, go into your firewall settings and select View Zones. You should see your home network has been added and placed in the Public zone, which restricts access to shared files and other resources. If you trust your network, click Edit and switch its zone to Trusted.
Add Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (www.malwarebytes.com) – the free version will detect and remove threats missed by other tools, but if you can afford the premium version you’ll get real-time protection alongside your main tool as well, blocking a wider
range of threats, including malicious websites and PUPs at source. We run MBAM Premium alongside Norton to cover all the threats mentioned above.
Ransomware is a nasty type of virus that locks your PC or encrypts your files, demanding a ransom to get the unlock key. Inoculate your PC against many of these threats by installing Bitdefender Anti-Ransomware (www.bitdefender. com/solutions/anti-ransomware-tool. html) if your anti-malware software doesn’t explicitly offer protection.
Many of these threats originate from dodgy websites – pop-up windows or misleading links. Most browsers now have built-in site-screening tools for the worst offenders, but arm yourself with some form of site vetting plugin, preferably one that rates websites for security and privacy. Sadly, a tool we used to recommend – Web of Trust – has seen its reputation bashed when it was discovered to be selling personal information about its users. The practice has allegedly been stopped, but consider an alternative, such as Norton Safe Web (https://safeweb.norton.com/), if you want to vet both websites and search engine results.
Also add Unchecky (www.unchecky. com), a free tool that helps protect against inadvertently installing PUPs, and Bitdefender Traffic Light (www. bitdefender.co.uk/toolbox/freeapps/ desktop/). Traffic Light offers some protection against malicious websites.
Finally, strengthen protection against phishing websites and filter internet content for your children by applying security at a network level using the OpenDNS Home service (www.opendns. com), which has the added benefit of delivering faster website loading as well.
Most threats make their way on to your PC through trickery and deceit. It began with phishing – fake emails that tried to trick people into clicking a link to visit a facsimile of a genuine website in order to capture their login details. Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs) are bundled with genuine programs – options to add these generally pop up during the installation process and they’re usually ticked by default.
Scareware is a kind of program that exaggerates or makes false claims – typically about security (‘Your PC is infected!’, ‘10,000 Registry entries are slowing your computer down!’) – to con people into paying for the full version. It can also be delivered by malware.
Long story short – be wary about clicking links on websites and in emails. Add a mail-screening tool, such as Mailwasher (www.mailwasher.net) or PopTrayU (http://poptrayu.sourceforge. net/) to vet your mail before opening it in your email program, deleting suspicious emails. And dig out your copy of issue 133 for more tips and tricks on securing your PC and network.
“In spite of the best efforts of security vendors, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to protecting your PC”
ZoneAlarm enables you to control network and internet traffic to and from your computer.
Good anti-malware tools block infections at their source.