Protecting Your Computer, Part 1

Introduction:

It seems that these days no matter where I go I hear about someone having computers problems. Be it at the local store check-out line, sitting in a church pew, waiting in line for a cup of mocha, in an internet chat-room, and just about everywhere else.

The stories are usually the same. Someone complaining about how slow their computer is running - usually due to the massive amount of worthless programs they've installed on their computers - or secondly because they have allowed viruses, spyware, or tracking software on their computers - probably without knowing it.

In this two-part series on bring your computer back to life we will first take a look at how to protect your computer to make sure nothing bad happens. In the second part we'll take a look at some common, and not so common, ways of fixing a computer that's been abused.

Protecting Your System:

Knowing how to protect your computer system is the first line of defense.

– Secure verses Insecure

In an age when nearly every computer in the world is hooked up to the internet defense is a must. I, on rare occasions, hear people talk about how they are not going to hook up to the internet because they want to protect their computer. Because they've heard the horror stories from friends about what happened to them when they got the internet on their computer. These often bring a chuckle out of me (and a strange look from the person talking) because this is just not the case! Just because you do not have the internet accessing your computer does *not* mean you'll always have a secure computer! Any computer that has software installed on it has the potential to be compromised with unwanted, possibly damaging, software. The instant you place that floppy disk into your floppy drive you are taking the risk of compromising your computer. So, let's just get this myth out of the way and move on to the real - the real - security issues.

Saying you a have secure computer is much the same as saying you have a safe car. There simply is no such thing. Even an oversized Hummer will end up in a small pile of metal if ran over by a semi-truck. A semi-truck ends up in a big pile of metal if it meets an overpass that is too low. Such is reality with computers. The only safe computer is one you never turn on.

The purpose for stressing this point is to stress that point that - at some point - you very likely will suffer a computer problem. In nearly fifteen years of owning computers I have yet to encounter someone who never had a computer problem.

But there are ways that we can protect our computers, ways to secure our computers, ways to help reduce the possibilities of constant abuse against our computers.

– Protect From Self & Others

There are two primary ways to increase the likelihood that you will suffer a computer mishap. The first would be instances that you cause yourself; the second are instances that are caused by others.

Nearly every time I encounter a computer that has had serious abuse or security related problems it was because the owner of the computer simply had not invested the time to secure their computer. The days of just starting your computer and having it secure are long, long, gone. The simple, yet frustrating fact is that in these days computer owners must be on defense to protect their computers. Gone are the times when you could depend upon Microsoft or Steve Jobs to fully protect your computers. Gone are the days when you did not have to worry about viruses in emails. Gone are the days when you did not have to worry about a website placing Trojans (nasty little pieces of software that 'phone home' whenever they feel like it) just by visiting an otherwise seemly innocent website. Very gone are the days when you could install a piece of free software and know that it isn't going to start tracking every website you visit, every email you send, every letter you type on your keyboard, or worse.

One of the most important ways you can protect your computer is to keep your version of Windows up-to-date. By this I do not mean going out and buy the latest version of Windows, but rather making sure that -your- version of Windows is up-to-date. This can easily be performed by visiting the Microsoft website and performing their "Windows Update". The 'Microsoft Windows Update' will allow you to get the latest updates available for your computer's operating system, software, and hardware. This is something you should run on a weekly basis. It is fast and very simple. Just visit their website at: http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/ and follow the very simple instructions. If there are any updates they provide a very easy to use interface that will update your computer. Most of the time these updates are security related, so again, running this on a weekly basis (or more often) is the #1 method of protecting your computer!

Additionally, there are now a number of software programs available by third-party developers - who like you and I want to try to protect their own computers - that have written software to help protect our computer and to hunt down anything that has already infected our computers.

Software You Should Not Be Without:

There are a small number of outstanding pieces of software that you can easily install safely onto your computer to help protect it from harm. Below I will review only the ones I recommend you install. Though there are dozens of other applications out there the below are what I consider "must haves" for every computer in the world!

These pieces of software are for the Windows Operating system only. Perhaps in the future I can highlight security apps for Macs and Linux, but for now let's just highlight Windows users.

All of these applications should work regardless of whether you are using Windows 98, 2000, or XP. Some of these program functionalities may already be installed within your version of Windows - for instance, XP has a built-in Firewall - but I am still going to recommend installing, running, and keep the following software packages up to date.

SpywareBlaster -

Spyware, adware, browser hijackers, and dialers are some of the fastest-growing threats on the Internet today. By simply browsing to a web page, you could find your computer to be the brand-new host of one of these unwanted fiends! The most important step you can take is to secure your system. And SpywareBlaster is the most powerful protection program available. SpywareBlaster can help prevent the installation of ActiveX-based spyware, adware, browser hijackers, dialers, and other potentially unwanted pests, block spyware/tracking cookies in Internet Explorer and Mozilla/Firefox, restrict the actions of potentially dangerous sites in Internet Explorer, and more!

SpywareBlaster can help keep your system spyware-free and secure, without interfering with the "good side" of the web - and unlike other programs, SpywareBlaster does not have to remain running in the background.

On the internet at: http://www.javacoolsoftware.com/

Ok, what does all that techno-mumbo-jumbo really mean? In simple terms (I hope) some people (malicious people) have created websites that install software onto your computer (through your internet browser), without you knowing, by simply visiting their website. You often do not know you've been infected until it is too late. But preventing this from happening is rather simple, and SpywareBlaster makes it even easier. We recommend you install this (free) software immediately and enable every available feature it has (minus the 'Disable the IE Home Page settings are in the Internet Tools Control Panel' which is located under the 'Tools' tab on the left, than 'Misc. IE Settings' on the top. Every other feature I personally suggest you enable. I personally do not like 'Flash' and know of a few websites that use Flash to forcefully place cookies on my computer, so I am personally suggesting you enable that - but this is optional based on if you like Flash. If you do not know what 'Flash' is, do not worry about it. You can leave it enabled and probably never encounter a problem and you'll get to enjoy cute little animation on some websites.

SpywareBlaster - like Windows itself - needs to be updated on a regular basis. I personally recommend running their update at the same time that you run the Windows Update, mentioned above. SpywareBlaster is free, but for only $9.95 (usd) SpywareBlaster can automatically perform updates. This is a per-computer charge but worth it if you don't like taking the time to press an extra button or two.

ZoneAlarm -

Probably the most important download you can install is "ZoneAlarm". ZoneAlarm is a third-party 'firewall'. ZoneAlarm protects against hackers, viruses, worms, identity theft, security breaches via instant messaging "holes," access to offensive Web content, and more-all in one easy-to-use, yet powerful package.

A firewall is a type of "one way access" system. It only allows into your computer what you authorize it to let in, and it only let's out of your computer what you allow it to. As previously mentioned Windows XP has its own built-in firewall - but I'm not a fan of it so I still recommend ZoneAlarm.

ZoneAlarm is both a free and a commercial application. The differences between the free and commercial versions are minimal. If you do not mind spending about $40 dollars I recommend purchasing the 'ZoneAlarm Pro' as it has some really nice extra features. Though you can save yourself $40 bucks and install a few other programs to do pretty much the same thing this Pro version will do. But for easablity for the average user, spend the $40 dollars.

Visit their main website at:
http://www.zonelabs.com/ and just hunt down their "free" version.

Ad-Aware -

This third piece of software is a must-have for hunting down programs that have already been installed on your computer that are highly unwanted. Ad-Aware is designed to provide advanced protection from known Data-mining, aggressive advertising, Parasites, Scumware, selected traditional Trojans, Dialers, Malware, Browser hijackers, and tracking components. With this you will not only be protected from known content, but will also have advanced protection against many of unknown, newly released variants. To further protect you, Ad-Aware has the capability to scan and list Alternate Data Streams (ADS) in NTFS enabled volumes. (great for Windows NT and Windows 2000 Users!)

Ad-Aware is another program that requires you to download small updates, in an effort to ensure Ad-Aware is able to find all of the latest bugs. Every time you load Ad-Aware you should run the 'Check for updates'. Ad-Aware is, I'll admit, slightly more difficult to configure then the rest of the fore mentioned programs, but spending a few minutes going through the different sections (and maybe even the help second) should give you the basics, without getting too techo-complicated.

At the time of writing this piece of software can be downloaded at:
http://lavasoft.element5.com/software/adaware/

Spybot-Search&Destroy -

The fourth piece of free software I'll recommend you download and use is 'Spybot', which in some ways is similar to Ad-Aware (mentioned above), yet it is also so very much not Ad-Aware. Spybot is an aggressive application that will hunt down and remove (thus 'search and destroy) a whole host of undesired spyware that perhaps has ended up on your computer. Spyware, for those wondering, is software that "spies" on your computers activities and reports back your activity to an unknown company that designed the spyware. This is - in my opinion - a major breach of privacy, yet so far no laws have been based that will allow us to prosecute such companies who infect our computers with these programs.

I will admit that Spybot is the hardest program to understand how to use. Though operation is very simple, to many it is confusing. Hopefully in a future version they will make their interface more friendly and understandable. I can quickly explain how to get started. Once you have it installed, press the 'Search for Updates' (yes, another program that requires regular updating). After the update (if necessary) has been installed press the 'Search & Destroy' button on the left. It'll take awhile to do its job and then display anything on your computer that it feels should be removed.

Download Spybot-Search & Destroy at: http://www.spybot.info/ and be sure to run it regularly!

For more information on how to use this program see:
http://www.spybot.info/en/tutorial/index.html

Anti-Virus Software -

There is no way around it - You are going to have to shell out some money to further protect that computer you just bought! Hopefully your computer came pre-installed with some of the software I'm going to recommend, but if it hasn't, I highly suggest shelling out the money for these programs.

The two biggest companies that offer industrial strength Anti-Virus software are McAfee and Norton and recommend sticking with one of these two.

I'll not get to in-depth about the differences between the two, beyond to say that my personal preference is McAfee.

The company McAfee has a large amount of products but the only one you really need to acquire is 'VirusScan'. VirusScan will run any time you turn your computer on, it will check all emails that come into (and out of) your computer, any file you download, it will also scan any transferred made from Instant Messenger programs, and than two amazing features it has are WormStopper™ and ScriptStopper™. WormStopper will detect mass-mailing worms by zeroing in on suspicious PC activity-such as unauthorized, bulk emails to contacts in your address book, while ScriptStopper detects then helps stop fast spreading viruses like I Love You, which use script-based code to infect your PC.

Additionally, VirusScan integrates directly on the MS Outlook for those of you using it. VirusScan can also automatically download the latest virus definitions (DATs), silently in the background without interrupting your work.

McAfee VirusScan runs $39.99 (USD) for an annual subscription.

You can find out more and purchase McAfee VirusScan at:
http://us.mcafee.com/root/package.asp?pkgid=100

The Need To Stay Up-To-Date:

Most of the programs I have recommended require you to regularly update their distribution files. These updates will insure that the detection software is always able to hunt down and eliminate the most recent methods of violating your computers integrity.

It simply cannot be stressed enough the importance that you regularly run Windows Update as well as check for the latest updates of the mentioned software. If you do not run these updates you might as well not even have them on your computer. As most of them take less than 30-seconds to acquire and install the updates, their really is no excuse for not staying up-to-date.

Time after time after time I've been called in to fix a computer that has been infected that was out of date. They had the necessary software to protect their computers; they were just lazy and didn't keep it updated.

If you slack off you'll probably suffer the consequences... because those trying to breach your computer will never slack off. It's their goal, their hope, their knowledge that you probably are slacking off, that continues to drive their often illegal activities. Stop this sort by staying up-to-date!

Already Infected?

Chances are that your computer, if it has been continued to the internet for more than a few hours, and you are not running the security programs I've mentioned above, has some type of infectious file or program within it.

Don't get all panicky and paranoid just yet. By downloading, installing and running the five programs I've mentioned above you can almost be guaranteed to remove any such infection files or programs from your computer. They are all very aggressive software that have the primary goal of cleaning your computer and keeping it clean.

Conclusion:

In the second part of this two-part article, Protecting Your Computer, I will highlight some of the easier ways to keep your computer running smoothly, how to remove unwanted programs, and how to keep it protected from hacks, family members and yourself!

Tia Williamson @prasnhym ·

Hey John! When are we going to get part 2?☕

Ruth Papalii @deanna ·

Yes that was awesome about how? to keep your internet clean thanks! heaps.

I have an automatic clean up virus and check as well but the way you explained it was awesome because my computer is going a bit slow now, only a tiny little bit! I am sure it is because of my Son and Nephew, and Neice and other Nephew and my Sons friends quite alot go on my computer and they get into that internet "Bebo" and chatting on computer to their girlfriends.

I see the picture that they can dress their people up! but praise the Lord they are not naked People, but I still do not like that site except! I do not want to force my child, or relations they have to learn their own mistakes.

I believe God has given You His "Holyspirit," Inspiration John. The way you made up this Christian site to help others, have really been inspired of the Lord. I Pray you will richly be rewarded for this and God would give you all the money you need for this Website, and more and more money for your pocket. God Bless You Brother and thankyou for your input! of keeping our computers safe.

Alot of Excellent Information. By the Way? (How come you do answer blogs) I have notice this as going a long! You do not seem to respond. You are part of this wonderful gift! the Lord has given us also, but you must have your personal and certain reasons and I have to stop being Nosey aye. hahaha

God Bless You.

Your sister in Christ.

Billy Beard @billyb ·

John, just a note of thanks, very informative. I am computer illiterate, appreciate it!

Rob Schuman @babaevan ·

Hi. I just wanted to add that you can also speed up a slow computer by defragmenting it. Windows has a built in defragmenter that works. I personally like to use third party programs. I bought and use O&O Defrag Professional 11. It does a good job at defragging the hard drive.

Picture an office desk with papers from a report all over. It would take a while to get it in order and organized. That is what happens to the information on our hard drives in our computers after time from installing programs, uninstalling programs. It takes the computer longer to find the information its looking for on a fragmented hard drive. Also, by not defragmenting, it can shorten the life of the hard drive.

When you defragment the hard drive, it organizes the information on it so it is quicker and easier to read and find what its looking for. The hard drive is healthier and lasts longer. You have a faster computer again.

I personally defrag my hard drives often...every day just because I like a fast computer.

I hope this also has helped someone.

babaevan