Playing Safely on the Web

Don't become another statistic!

Everyone knows that the Web can be a very dangerous place.  Some of us have even had the misfortune to find out the hard way, while others simply hope for the best.  Each of the following items are applications I have used and can therefore vouch for their effectiveness.  Since most of them are free, you'll no longer have an excuse for becoming yet another statistic.

Easy to install and use, Avira free anti-virus claims to protect you from the very latest threats.  The Avira SearchFree Toolbar, included as an optional add-on, upholds your privacy and steers you away from malicious websites.

Silly pirate name, excellent software!  Avast! is one of the most respected anti-virus tools available.  As you might expect, the paid version provides greater functionality, but you can't argue with the price of the free one.

Complete Inbox protection.  Benign neutralizes harmful aspects of your e-mail such as viruses, scripts and web bugs, so e-mail you receive is safe.  In my experience, this remains one of the most under-rated, yet powerful and easy-to-use, anti-virus tools currently available.

Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ combines Anti-spyware with a free Antivirus.  It features download protection (blocks malicious files before being written to disk), sandboxing (keeps unknown apps running in a virtual environment) and advanced detection.

If you don't already have an effective virus scanner on your system, I'd be amazed if you're still able to read this article.  However, AVG are very nice people, so they've also provided a free version which you can obtain by clicking on the above link.  Note that you should never have two virus checkers installed at the same time if you want an easy life.  Also remember that your anti-virus solution may not recognise a virus that was released since you last updated, so please keep it current -- and promise me you'll never open an email attachment you weren't expecting?

Bleeping Computer is a forum-based community devoted to providing free original content consisting of computer help and tutorials in such a way that the beginning computer user can understand.  Here you'll find lots of easily-digestible advice and some very useful security tools.

MailWasher Pro works directly with your e-mail server, exactly like your e-mail program does.  But there is one important difference: you can tell MailWasher Pro to delete a message at the server, without downloading it - or you can bounce an e-mail back to the sender so that it looks as though your address is not valid.  MailWasher Pro can be thought of as a "first line of defence" which can weed out junk, large wasteful attachments, and potentially harmful viruses.

If you check your accounts with MailWasher Pro first, you can delete or bounce the e-mail you do not want.  Then, when you use your e-mail program, it downloads only the remaining emails - those that you want to read.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free utilizes Malwarebytes powerful technology to detect and remove all traces of malware including worms, trojans, rootkits, rogues, dialers, spyware and more.  Although the paid version obviously delivers more features and includes real time prevention, a regular scan using the free version will help to keep you out of trouble and won't upset your regular anti-virus app.  I can't recommend this one highly enough.

McAfee Stinger is a quick and installation-free standalone tool for detecting and removing prevalent malware and threats, and can be very useful if your PC is already infected.  Whilst not a replacement for full-fledged antivirus software, Stinger is updated multiple times a week to include detection for newer Fake Alert variants and other malware.

Like Ad-Aware, above, Spybot Search & Destroy is a free utility that scans your drives for the presence of Spyware, Scumware and Malware, etc.  It will happily coexist with Ad-aware - each product often finding 'nasties' the other one hasn't.

Prevents certain types of spyware installing in the first place.  Download the latest SpywareBlaster and choose between the free version that you must remember to manually update, or a paid version that updates itself automatically.

Kaspersky Lab has developed the TDSSKiller utility for removing malicious rootkits.  A rootkit for Windows systems is a program that penetrates into the system and intercepts the system functions (Windows API).  It can effectively hide its presence by intercepting and modifying low-level API functions.  Moreover it can hide the presence of particular processes, folders, files and registry keys.  Some rootkits install its own drivers and services in the system (they also remain “invisible”).  Even if you think your system is clean, it won't hurt to download and run this once in a while.

Bill Pytlovany's immensely useful WinPatrol uses a heuristic approach to detecting attacks and violations of your computing environment.  Traditional security programs scan your hard drive searching for previously identified threats.  WinPatrol takes snapshot of your critical system resources and alerts you to any changes that may occur without your knowledge.  With Scotty the Windows watchdog on patrol you'll be kept informed about what's going on inside your computer.  WinPatrol puts you back in control, so you'll know which programs are (and should be) running.

I have used ZoneAlarm firewall extensively and can recommend it.  If you don't know what a firewall is, you shouldn't on the web because anyone without one is a sitting duck.  Whilst recent versions of Windows have a firewall built in, it will only attempt to prevent intrusion, rather than stop what you've already invited onto your machine from sending nasty stuff like spam and viruses out again.  Zonealarm efficiently checks both incoming and outgoing traffic, thereby preventing your system from being used as a spam relay, a.k.a Zombie or Bot.  Just do it, please!

In closing, be advised that you should never, ever assume that your presence on the web is too insignificant to warrant the need for any of this stuff.  The web is a minefield of poisoned websites delivering drive-by downloads of malware that you might not realise you've been infected with until it's too late.  This in addition to a swarm of high-speed scanners listening out for complacent surfers.  Just install ZoneAlarm and then check your logs to find out how many times in an hour attempts are made to probe your system!  If your web connection now seems to work far more slowly than it used to it may already be too late, but let's hope not, eh?

Take care,


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