Protect Yourself From Internet Threats? Easy!

(Note: This was originally published in 2005 and has been slightly edited for this presentation.)

The Basics

I am assuming you are using a Windows operating system.

First, make sure you have all the latest critical and high priority updates for whichever Windows you are using. There should be a “Windows Update” in one of the lists you can get to from the START button. Use it to get the critical and security updates you need. If you’ve never used it before, Microsoft will require you to install a couple of items first. You really have very little choice in the matter if you want your updates this way, so let them install and run their programs. After they scan your system, you will be given a choice on downloading and installing your updates. After the updates are installed, you will probably need to restart your computer.

Make sure you have a firewall installed and turned on. For general use, the included Windows firewall is adequate. If you even rarely visit “questionable” sites ( in your judgement), then you will need a more thorough firewall. If you are behind a router, make sure the router’s firewall is turned on. Regardless of the router, make sure you have a firewall installed on your pc that monitors both incoming and outgoing traffic. An intrusion attempt monitor is recommended. A good antivirus program is essential these days. Make sure you have it set to scan all incoming and outgoing emails, as well as inside of compressed files. It should also be able to detect the presence of rootkits on your system. It’s a good idea to scan every file on your system at least once a week. I scan my system every day at 430 am. To really protect your computer from the latest spyware threats, you’re going to need a spyware removal program. I once used Spybot – Search and Destroy, and have had great success with it. Although I use a different program now, I still keep Spybot S&D around for other functions it has built into it. Occasionally I find the need for another specialized program, Hijack This!, which is indispensable when removing some infestations. Each and every one of these programs, Windows, antivirus, spyware remover, and Hijack This!, need to be kept current. In other words, to make all this stuff work together and Really work, you will have to make yourself check for updates at least once a week. I check for updates on each of these plus the other main programs I use on a daily basis. If you don’t keep your programs up-to-date, you cannot protect yourself at all on the internet.

Okay, you say, I’m all set. Now what?

Becoming a Smaller Target

Nearly all viral threats are directed at Microsoft products, and for good reason. More computers on this planet use their software than any other software, mainly because it comes preinstalled on most computers when you buy them. This doesn’t make Microsoft or the products they make, bad. I personally am very grateful to Microsoft. Their business practice of “giving away” software helped make computers inexpensive enough to fuel the outrageous growth of the computer culture as a whole. They might not be the “best” guys, but I think they are at least some of the “good guys”.

The real bad guys are usually playing a “numbers game” when they release their latest nasty. They target known issues and security flaws in all software, but Microsoft products just give an easier payoff. Another way of looking at it is like this: Security on the internet can be looked at as a war zone. There are lots of little terrorists (the virus and spyware creators) who want to attack and do as much damage as possible with each effort. Microsoft is the biggest presence on the internet, and therefore the easiest to hit. So when the latest script kiddie comes out with a new bug, he will probably target everyone using Microsoft products to get the best bang for his effort. After all, he has a reputation to create.

Since we know that the next big outbreak will probably be targeted directly at Microsoft products, the easiest way to protect ourselves from this future threat is to find another product that works as well for us. There are pretty much two other choices for you. The first is Apple. The cost factor usually rules them out. Their machines are better, in my opinion, from a security standpoint. But the cost of an iMac is considerably more than a pc. So if you stick with a pc, the main competitor to Windows has been the several different variations of Linux ( an alternative to Windows). Some are free and some cost money. The free ones are pretty good, but you would want at least a little real guarantee of support for your operating system. That will cost money and it’s really hard to spend against something you aren’t sure is ever going to happen anyway. So, keep your Windows, and keep it updated at Windows Update.

Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird

And that big blue “e” on your desktop has always been there, free. How much will it cost to replace that thing? It seems like the most complicated thing on the whole computer! Well, honestly, Mozilla Firefox doesn’t cost you a penny. I have been using it since the middle of 2004 and would never use anything else. At first, the big blue “e” seemed fine to me except for the security problems. Nevertheless, I am old school and had always used Netscape. After using Firefox, I can just say that there is no other browser out there that can really compare. It’s fast, reliable, and what can I say, I Like it! Do you want a browser that will do what You want instead of what some geeks in Redmond want? After you install Firefox go to Firefox Central and customize it to your heart’s content. Extensions allow you to add features that you actually want, instead of yet another useless toolbar to clutter your screen. On mine, I have a constant feed for the weather (ForecastFox), an adblocker that gives me control over what ads I want to see, if any (Adblock), complete controls for my Winamp MP3 player (FoxyTunes), the ability to increase the size of the text or pictures on the screen, and constant news feeds via RSS from the BBC, CNN, ABC, Slashdot, and ESPN (LiveBookmarks), just to name a few. And anti phishing has been standard on it for awhile now. I can even make Firefox tell the internet that it’s Internet Explorer, so that sites that require IE will display properly.

Themes will give you the ability to change the way your browser looks and feels. My personal favorite is the Noia Extreme theme. There are lots to choose from. You will find one that’s just you.
The other main program from Microsoft that people use is Outlook Express, for email. Once again, just because I’d rather ride in a truck with a red cross on it than a bullseye, I recommend using a different product. The Thunderbird Email program from Mozilla is an excellent replacement. It has all the same features and more. Plus the extensions and themes for Thunderbird are available, as with all Mozilla products. There is even a fully functional calendar extension that rivals the full Microsoft program Outlook, so a Thunderbird download with the calendar extension is kind of like a free upgrade.

Lest you think this is just an ad for Mozilla, let me tell you truthfully: I believe in these two products. Firefox isn’t the only browser if you don’t want IE. There are several, and I’ve heard that even the free version of Opera rivals anything on the market. I have simply had a great experience with Firefox. Fewer worries and all that. And Thunderbird without any extensions is just the best email program I have ever used. I have a couple of extra buttons on mine to deal with junk mail more efficiently and that’s it.

Other Common Programs

Regardless of which browser or email you choose, you must keep them updated. In addition, there are several programs you use that you might not be familiar with. Adobe Reader, for viewing pdf files, Flash Player, Quicktime, Real Player, Sun Java. These are just a few of the programs that also need to be kept current. Even though they have built in updaters, some of them don’t remove the old versions from your computer, and that leaves you still vulnerable. So it’s up to you to protect yourself. Go into the Control Panel and select ADD/REMOVE PROGRAMS. Look for more than one entry for each of these programs and uninstall the lowest numbered for each of them. If you don’t see an entry for one of them don’t worry, you probably have a different program to handle those files. For instance Windows Media Player will handle most video files so Real Player is not a necessity. Note that both Java and Adobe are notorious for leaving their old versions behind. Don’t remove all the entries. If you do some of the internet will either not work for you, or will look rather strange.

Use Good Judgement

One last thing: You can have an army of security between your pc and the internet, and it does no good whatsoever if you don’t exercise some good judgement out there. If you go to the “seedier” parts of the net, expect to catch something. Porn surfing? Expect to catch something. Downloading illegal files? Expect to catch something. It’s like this. The internet is just like where you live. There are places nearby you wouldn’t ever drive to, get out and hang about. For a variety of reasons it’s not in your best interests to go there. So don’t go there.

I am Jon, your host here at Wordout.