Tag Archives: Anti-Virus

New Christmas computer, part 2: anti-virus

You are savoring your new PC and visiting your usual haunts: Facebook, Netflix, Hulu, and more.

But if this new PC does not have anti-virus, a firewall, and other precautions, the glitter will soon be gone, and you’ll soon wonder why the problems you’re having in 2013 are related to that new PC.

New machines are a good time to develop new habits. Sure, there’s a little trouble now, but you’ll save hours of grief later.  Think of this as the moments required to fasten the seat belt in your car and perhaps a bit of discomfort – but compare that to the pain and expense of injuries incurred in even a minor crash if you weren’t wearing it. Minor decisions now can have major consequences later.

Habit #2: Install and configure anti-virus

While many new computers come with anti-virus software, often it’s a limited “trial” version from one of the popular brands such as Symantec, McAfee, or Trend Micro. If you don’t mind shelling out $40 or more for a year (or more) of anti-virus protection, go ahead and do so now before you forget. Granted, most of these trial versions are aggressively “in your face” about converting your trial version into a full purchased version.  Caution: if you get into the habit of dismissing the “your trial version is about to run out!” messages, you run the risk of turning a blind eye when your trial anti-virus is no longer protecting you.  Better do it now!

If your computer did not come with anti-virus software, I suggest you make that the first order of business. There are many reputable brands of anti-virus available today, available online or from computer and electronics stores. For basic virus (and Trojan, worms, key loggers, etc.), all of the main brands of anti-virus are very similar.

My personal preference for anti-virus programs (in order) are:

  1. Kaspersky
  2. Sophos
  3. AVG
  4. Norton
  5. McAfee
  6. Panda
  7. Trend Micro

Note: if selecting, installing, and configuring anti-virus seems to be beyond your ability, consult with the store where you purchased your computer, or contact a trusted advisor who is knowledgable on the topic.

Key configuration points when using anti-virus:

  • “Real time” scanning – the anti-virus program examines activity on your computer continuously and blocks any malware that attempts to install itself.
  • Signature updates – the anti-virus program should check at least once each day for new updates, to block the latest viruses from infecting your computer.
  • Periodic whole disk scans – it is a good idea to scan your hard drive at least once a week. If you keep your computer on all the time, schedule the scan to take place when you are not using the computer, as a scan can slow down your computer.
  • Safe Internet usage – many anti-virus programs contain a feature that will try to warn you or steer you away from sites that are known to be harmful.

Many anti-virus programs also come with a firewall and other tools. Some of these may be useful as well – consult your computer retailer or a trusted advisor to see what’s right for you.

Part 1: password security

Part 3: data backup

Protect your Black Monday shopping with a quick tune-up

I cannot stress enough the need for every PC user to have a healthy, working, properly configured anti-virus program running on their computer at all times.

[updated December 1, 2012]
Before embarking on online shopping trips, it’s worth the few minutes required to make sure your computer does not enable the theft of your identity.

Tens of thousands will have their identities stolen in the next few weeks, because malware was able to help steal valuable information from you such as credit card numbers, online userids and passwords. A few minutes work will go a long way towards preventing this.

That, or you can do nothing, and potentially have to take days off of work to cancel credit cards, write letters, get credit monitoring, and get back to where you are right now with perhaps forty hours’ work.

It’s up to you.

Ready?

1. On your PC, connect to http://update.microsoft.com/ .  Go through the steps required to check that all necessary security patches are installed.

Note: If you are able to connect to Internet sites but are unable to successfully install updates at update.microsoft.com, your PC may already be compromised. If so, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to rid your computer of malware. Delays may be very costly in the long run.

2. To eliminate the need to periodically visit update.microsoft.com, confirm that Automatic Updates are properly set. Use one of the following links for detailed instructions (all are Microsoft articles that open in a new window):

Windows XP | Windows Vista | Windows 7 | Windows 8 (automatic updates are turned on by default)

If you are unable to successfully turn on Automatic Updates, your PC may already be compromised. If so, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to rid your computer of malware. Delays may be very costly in the long run.

3. Ensure that your PC has working anti-virus software. If you know how to find it, make sure that it has downloaded updates in the last few days. Try doing an update now – your anti-virus software should be able to successfully connect and check for new updates. If your Internet connection is working but your anti-virus software is unable to check for updates, it is likely that your PC is already compromised.

Note: if any of the following conditions are true, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to make sure your computer is protected from malware.

a. You cannot find your anti-virus program

b. Your anti-virus program cannot successfully check for updates

c. Your anti-virus program does not seem to be working properly

If you are not sure whether your anti-virus software is working (or if you computer even has anti-virus software), you may wish to download and run Microsoft Security Essentials. This is a free anti-virus program from Microsoft. While some professionals may argue that this is not as effective as any of the commercial brands of anti-virus software (Sophos, Symantec, McAfeeTrend Micro, Panda, etc), it’s better than having nothing at all.

December 1, 2012 Update: Microsoft Security Essentials has lost its certification as being an effective anti-virus program. Full test results available here in an easy to read chart. Note the absence of the “AVTest Certified” logo next to Microsoft Security Essentials.

Several free anti-virus programs are worthy of consideration: AVG, Avast, Zone Alarm Free Antivirus + Firewall, Panda Cloud Anti-Virus. I cannot stress enough the need for every PC user to have a healthy, working, properly configured anti-virus program on their computer at all times.

Social media safety during the holidays

The late-year holidays (Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas) are known for travel, visiting with friends and family, and gift giving and receiving. Any time of year is a time for sharing some details of our lives with others through social media outlets such as FaceBook, Twitter, MySpace, and personal blogs.

During this time of year, it is especially important that you protect yourself from online threats, some of which are caused by others, and some of which are caused by you! Follow these steps to keep your property and your online presence safe during the holidays:

Don’t announce your travel in advance. If you post something like, “leaving home for Philadelphia for five days”, you are announcing to the world that your home may be vacant for extended periods of time, inviting burglaries.  Make your posts more vague, such as “spending Christmas with brothers and parents”, which might be where you live, or not.

Don’t gloat about your gifts. Similarly, if you talk about your new Kinect,  Wii, or iPad online, you may be sharing news of your loot with too many outsiders. Instead, be more discrete and share news about your new things more privately.

Limit FaceBook exposure. Check your privacy settings in FaceBook. Consider setting up one or more groups of family and friends, to limit how wide your announcements are sent. My wife and I have “immediate family”, “family”, and other groups of highly-trusted individuals with whom we may share things about travel, gifts, and other personal matters, so that the entire world doesn’t know that we might not be home at the moment.  Similarly, limit the FaceBook applications that you allow to access your personal data. Some FaceBook applications are malevolent and are designed to steal your information and use it against you.

Get a security tune-up. Follow easy steps to ensure that your anti-virus and firewall are working, and that your patches and browser are up to date. Do this before you shop online, to limit the chances that your credit cards will be compromised.

Secure your home Wi-Fi. Find the instructions to improve the security of your home router or Wi-Fi access point. Change from no security to WEP, or better yet, WPA.  While WEP is not as secure these days, it’s better than nothing. WPA or WPA2 are far better, and most PCs (and even gaming consoles) supports WPA and WPA2 these days.

Limit use of public Wi-Fi hotspots. From road warriors to housewives, we roam with our laptops from hotspot to hotspot at our favorite coffee shops and other public venues.  While it’s okay to check the news and get shopping information, it is not okay to check e-mail, log on to FaceBook or Twitter, or perform high-value activities such as online shopping from an open WiFi hotspot. Easy to use tools are widely available that permit even the unskilled to hijack your session and compromise your personal information.

Check your credit. U.S. consumers can check their credit three times per year for free (once per year for each of the three credit bureaus). Check your credit report carefully, looking for any accounts that you may not have opened, or for changes in accounts you may not have authorized.

Use a separate online shopping credit card. Rather than using your primary credit/debit card for online shopping, open a second account and use only that one. Keep a low balance to minimize your exposures.

Choose “credit” when using debit/credit cards. Whenever you are making purchases with your debit/credit card, choose “Credit”. Then, if your credit card number is later compromised, you may enjoy additional protection (such as the $50 liability limit) on your account. Many banks do not offer the same protection for compromised debit card numbers.

Switch to Kaspersky

After using AVG Free anti-virus for many years, we have switched all of our home PCs to Kaspersky Internet Security 2010.

AVG served us faithfully for five years. It never malfunctioned. Still, it didn’t far so well in a recent high-profile test of anti-virus products.

Kaspersky Internet Security 2010 can be installed on up to three home computers. It comes with (of course) anti-virus software, plus a firewall, parental controls, and the ability to run selected applications in a sandbox. It has other features that I will write about in future blog posts.

If you’re on a budget, the free version of AVG is still good, and way better than nothing. I still recommend AVG for people who simply don’t have the cash for Kaspersky or another product.

Clean up your PC while watching the Emmy’s

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This would be a great time to multi-task and get the gunk out of your computer. During the Emmy awards, there are plenty of slow moments when you can get to more important things like scanning your PC for malware (viruses, worms, Trojans, spyware).

Get New (Free) Anti-Virus Software

If the license has run out on your Norton, Symantec, McAfee, or other brand of anti-virus, don’t renew it. Instead, download AVG anti-virus. It’s a great anti-virus program, and it’s free.  We use it on our Windows systems and recommend it to our friends. Several businesses we know of use the commercial versions of AVG as well. Get it here:

http://free.avg.com/

Scan Your Computer, Twice

After you install AVG (or if you are still using another brand, which is working well and up-to-date), you need to scan your entire hard drive for viruses. Each brand of anti-virus does this a little differently. Make sure you scan the entire hard drive; if your computer has more than one hard drive, scan them all.

There are also several good online virus scanning programs available. Scanning your PC with your local anti-virus scan and an online virus scanner is like getting a second opinion. There are several good online virus scanners, here:

…all of the above companies are commercial organizations of the highest quality.

Most or all of the above online virus scanners require you use Internet Explorer. Most of my readers know that I strongly recommend Firefox with the NoScript and FlashBlock add-ons for the safest online browsing, but once in a while it’s necessary to run IE.

Set Up Weekly Scans

It’s a good idea to have your anti-virus program automatically scan your PC every week. This provides an added protection, by having your anti-virus program search for viruses that may have somehow gotten by your anti-virus program.

I recommend you have the scan run overnight – have it start well after you go to bed, but give it enough time to complete before morning. On some larger (and older) PC’s, a virus scan can take a few hours.

Include safe computing in your list of New Years Resolutions

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The New Year is a time of reflection, and traditionally a time to consider changing one’s habits.

Our reliance upon computers and networks has exceeded our means to safely use and control them. Every computer user has some responsibility to make sure that their computer and use of the Internet does not introduce unknown and unwanted risks. By following these recommendations you will greatly reduce your risk to fraud, identity theft, and other risks related to Internet usage.

1. Change your passwords. Use strong passwords, which cannot be easily guessed by others, even those who know you. Do not share your password with any other person. If needed, store your passwords in a protected vault such as Password Safe or KeePass. I recommend you not use an online vault for password storage: if their security is compromised, so are your passwords.

2. Scan for Viruses and other malware. Configure your anti-virus software to scan your entire computer at least weekly. Make sure that your anti-virus software is checking for updates at least once per day. Also scan your computer with one of several online virus scanners at least once per month.

Panda: http://www.pandasoftware.com (look for the ActiveScan link on the home page)

Symantec: http://security.symantec.com/default.asp?productid=symhome&langid=ie&venid=sym

Trend Micro: http://housecall.trendmicro.com/

Kaspersky: http://www.kaspersky.com/virusscanner

CA: http://www3.ca.com/securityadvisor/virusinfo/scan.aspx

3. Block spam, and don’t open spam messages. The majority of spam (unwanted junk email) is related to fraud. Spam messages advertise fraudulent or misleading products, or lure you to websites that contain malware that will attempt to take over your computer (without your knowing it) and steal valuable information from you.

4. Get a firewall. If you use Windows, turn on the Windows Firewall. Ask your broadband service provider to upgrade your modem/router to one that contains a firewall (most newer modems / routers do have firewalls or other similar protection).

5. Remove spyware. Obtain a good anti-spyware program and use it to find and remove spyware from your computer.

6. Update your software. Obtain up-to-date copies of browsers and tools on your computer, as many older versions are no longer secure. This includes Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, Java, and other programs.

7. Install security patches. If you are using Windows, turn on Automatic Updates, and configure it to automatically download and install security patches and updates.

8. Use separate accounts on shared computers. If more than one person uses your computer, set up separate accounts for each user. Make each user an ordinary user or power user, but never an administrator. Making each user an administrator makes the entire computer more vulnerable to malware (viruses, etc.).

9. Browse Safely. Change to Firefox and use the NoScript add-on. This is the only combination designed to block the new “clickjacking” vulnerability present in all other browsers. Also consider using Flashblock (works only with Firefox) if you want to control the use of Flash content in your browser.

10. Protect your wireless WiFi network. The old an still-common “WEP” protocol designed to encrypt your wireless traffic has been broken, and is no longer safe. Upgrade to WPA, even if it means buying a new wireless access point.

11. Back up your data. All kinds of bad things can happen, from mistakes to hardware failures. If you cannot afford to lose your data, then you need to copy it to a separate storage device. External hard drives and high capacity USB thumb drives cost well below US$100. You’ll be glad you did, sooner or later.

12. Encrypt your hard drive. Mostly important for laptop computers, but also important for desktop computers. The TrueCrypt tool is by far the most popular one available, and it’s free. If you don’t encrypt your data, then anyone who steals your computer can (and will) read all of your private data.

13. Check your credit reports. Fraud and identity theft can result in thieves opening new credit card and loan accounts in your name. They run up a balance and then never pay the bill, making that your problem instead. Consider a credit reporting service as well, which will alert you to inquiries and changes to your credit accounts, limits, and balances.

Annualcreditreport.com

Federal Trade Commission information on free credit reports

Equifax

Experian

Transunion

Recommended Tools:

Secunia Personal Software Inspector – free tool that examines your computer and alerts you to all of the unpatched and older versions of programs that need to be upgraded.

Password Safe – safe and secure storage of all of your Internet passwords. Also remembers userids and URLs.

NoScript – the only way to control third-party javascript and clickjacking. Works only with Firefox.

TrueCrypt – safe and free encryption of your PC’s hard drive.

Five ways to improve your laptop security while you watch the Super Bowl

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You have a laptop computer and you know the security on it is terrible or nonexistent. You’ve got spyware and viruses and don’t know what to do.

Here are three steps you can take while watching the Super Bowl. You won’t miss any of the game.

Install Free Anti-Virus

Most users don’t need fee-based anti-virus programs like Norton or McAfee. Instead, consider using AVG anti-virus. It’s free, easy to install and use, and just as effective as the big boys.

AVG from Grisoft: free.avg.com

Then run a scan of your entire computer. Double-click the AVG anti-virus icon in the systray. Click Test Center, then click Scan Computer. This will take a while – now you can watch the game.

Do an Online Virus Scan

Not sure if your installed anti-virus program is finding all the viruses on your computer? Go to one or more of these sites to get a free online scan – like getting a second opinion on the health of your computer.

Panda: http://www.pandasoftware.com (look for the ActiveScan link on the home page)
Symantec: http://security.symantec.com/default.asp?productid=symhome&langid=ie&venid=sym
Trend Micro: http://housecall.trendmicro.com/
Kaspersky: http://www.kaspersky.com/virusscanner
CA: http://www3.ca.com/securityadvisor/virusinfo/scan.aspx

Any of these will take just a few minutes to set up, and then the scan will take as long as an hour or more. Enjoy the game while the scan is running.

Install a Free Personal Firewall

A firewall can block incoming threats like worms and bots that can otherwise harm your system and steal your data. Like the other tools on this page, these two products are both free. Firewalls require a little more knowledge, so you might want to find a power-user friend to help.

Zone Alarm: www.zonelabs.com
Comodo: www.personalfirewall.comodo.com

Scan for Spyware

Spyware, adware, and other unwanted software lurks in spam and on websites. Anti-virus stops some, but not all.

Spybot: www.safer-networking.org
Spyware Blaster: www.javacoolsoftware.com
Microsoft Defender: www.microsoft.com

Install one or two of these packages, then follow the instructions to scan your entire computer for spyware.

Install Software Patches

Okay, software patches should be free, and free they are. It is very important to stay up to date with Windows and Office security patches. If you run Windows, get your patches straight from Microsoft. Unless you’re an IT pro, I recommend you set up Automatic Updates so that patches are installed automatically.

Microsoft update: update.microsoft.com (only works with Windows Internet Explorer)
Learn about automatic updates: www.microsoft.com

Bonus tip: Get a Free Credit Check

U.S. citizens can get free credit checks once per year. You can get them from all three credit reporting bureaus all at once, or do one every four months, picking a different bureau every time. By monitoring your credit, you are more likely to discover fraudulent use of your identity.

Annualcreditreport.com
Federal Trade Commission information on free credit reports
Equifax
Experian
Transunion