It’s hard to answer all your questions about PC security in one column but let me just list the bases that have to be covered to keep your family or small business computers and network safe. I’ll deal with them from the standpoint of minimums and you can decide for yourself if you need to beef up a particular aspect of your security coverage. Depending on your usage and exposure you may need more than minimal coverage, but the list I’ll give here will serve most family and even small business systems.
The five bases of the security game are passwords, firewalls, anti-malware software, update plan and secure browsers.
There are two important passwords to keep your overall computing environment safe; your Windows logon password and your wireless network password. The first keeps someone from logging on to your PC(s) and the second keeps intruders from accessing your wireless network which exposes your individual PCs. It is not that hard to come up with a secure logon password that will be easy for you to remember and difficult for intruders. Yes, I know you’ll have to type it in every time you start up, but that will only make it easier to remember. Your wireless password can even be one generated by your router since your connecting devices will remember it after the first connection. If you have a router that sends out a primary signal and a guest signal, require your guests to use the guest network.
If you use a router, that’s a built-in hardware firewall. You still need to activate a software one; either the native Windows one or one that came with your anti-malware software.
Next is anti-malware software. Windows Security Essentials is a good, free one that is very user friendly and does not require much from you. AVG free is one of my favorite alternatives and there are several other good free ones. Look at pcmag.com or CNET for reviews of top rated free and paid programs. Be careful with the paid security suites that have everything for every risk factor as they may slow your system down in a noticeable way.
Your update plan is very important and should be intentional. Put your Windows Updates on automatic and set up your anti-malware software as auto as you can get it (auto update, auto scan). For all your other software, use Secunia OSI periodically to check and see what needs to be updated; things like Flash Player and Java and the like. You should also run Win Updates and your AV software updates manually once in a while to make sure your auto plan is actually working (I run mine once a month on all PCs in my office).
Lastly, pick a secure browser and keep it up to date. Firefox and Chrome are constantly trying to keep their browsers safe and are generally more secure than Internet Explorer (use the latest version, version 9.0 for new PCs and version 8 for XP users).
Make you game plan and stick to it!
Written by Jim Hall. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org . You can find Jim online at HallsTrainingSolutions.com