Personally, I don’t understand it, but I know that for whatever reason, many people still use Microsoft’s sorry excuse for an operating system. Lately I’ve gotten several requests from Windows users for my security recommendations. Having stumbled through this a bunch of times in the past, I decided to skip the long emails this time and just put it all in a post here on the blog.
The usual disclaimers apply: The downloading and installation of programs is beyond the scope of this article, being so basic that I’m going to assume that if you have a computer you know how to do it. And you take my advice at your own risk; I’m not responsible if you trash your computer.
These are the programs I recommend all Windows users install to protect their computers from malware:
Firefox web browser and Thunderbird email client:
The two largest security holes in any Windows computer are Internet Explorer and Outlook Express (web browser and email client, respectively). Without going into technical explanations, know that YOU SHOULD NEVER USE EITHER OF THESE PROGRAMS. There are safer and better-quality alternatives available.
Go to the Mozilla/Firefox/Thunderbird home page.
Download and install. Each program will attempt to migrate settings (bookmarks, etc) from their Windows counterparts. In use, they’re almost identical to their Windows counterparts.
To make sure Internet Explorer doesn’t try to sneak itself in as your default browser, thus defeating this security upgrade, on the Firefox menu bar go to Tools => Preferences (or Options, I can’t remember how they’re named in Windows) and in the resulting configuration window check the box labeled “Always check to see if Firefox is the default browser on startup.” Then click the button labeled “Check Now.” When Firefox asks you if you want to make it your default browser, always answer “yes.”
AVG Free Edition anti-virus software:
In my opinion, AVG Free is at least the equal of expensive products like Norton, for example. Go to the AVG Free download page.
Download and install and keep it updated. The sociopaths who write malware are constantly coming up with new products to evade protection software; if you don’t keep your protection updated, you’re not protected.
Spybot Search & Destroy:
An outstanding spyware and adware remover. It also removes Trojan Horse programs that antivirus applications miss. If your computer is getting slower and slower, chances are it’s infected with these types of malware, which load themselves on startup and then hog system resources. Go to the Spybot Search & Destroy home page.
Download and install and keep it updated. When it runs, it may take a considerable amount of time to complete, but it’s worth the wait. You may have to run it twice to remove stubborn infections.
Finally, run this nifty program to clean out crud that accumulates on your hard drive(s). It was originally named “Crap Cleaner” and it’s pretty good at what it does.
This is good to use in conjunction with the other programs because malware has a habit of making copies of itself in the “Temporary” and “Temporary Internet Files” directories. If you keep those directories clean, you reduce the chances of reinfection. Go to the CCleaner home page.
Download and install and keep it updated.
All of these programs are free to use, and work as well as, if not better than, their expensive commercial counterparts.
If you don’t have a high level of comfort with this sort of thing, going beyond the basic configuration of these programs might be a little tricky. In all cases, the default settings will get the job done.