Updated 11/22: Added information on the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer.
I make no secret about my love for Linux, and I make no bones about it either. I understand many of you still run Windows and you have good reasons (and sometimes really bad ones) for doing so. But if you must run Windows and connect it to the Internet, please take some steps to secure it, not only for your own sake, but for the rest of us.
Aside from the obvious threats from email viruses, pop-up windows with porn, spyware, there are also crackers out there who try to install malicious software on your computer. This software can turn your computer into a “zombie” which is used to launch attacks on yet more computers, causing untraceable denial of service attacks against web sites — perhaps even sites you visit frequently.
Updated 11/22: First of all, run Windows Update. Please remember that even if you turn on Automatic Updates, you aren’t necessarily going to get everything you need. So visit Windows Update from time to time. In addition, not even Automatic Updates and Windows Update present you with all the available security updates for your computer. Be sure to install the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer to gain access to all the available updates. Run it in addition to Windows Update, not instead of it.
Second, dump Internet Explorer. It is a blight on the computing landscape and the entry point for half of your computer security problems. Check out Firefox today, and see how much better, safer, faster the Web is without Internet Explorer. While you’re at it, dump Outlook Express too.
Third, install anti-virus and anti-spyware software. You can find some packages for free with a simple Google search, but to get the best software, by and large you’re going to have to pay for it. Norton Internet Security has historically been an excellent product, and while I haven’t seen this newest version, I have no reason to think that it’s any different.
If you aren’t quite up to paying money, Ad-Aware is an excellent anti-spyware package for Windows. Aside from Norton or other paid packages, this is the free package I always recommend and install on any Windows computer I find myself near.
I’m afraid I don’t know of any good, free anti-virus packages for Windows. All the good ones require payment or subscription. Norton is still probably your best bet here, even if you have to pay for it.
Finally, don’t forget your personal firewall. While Windows XP Service Pack 2 includes a personal firewall, it’s a bare-bones firewall, and not particularly good, and it’s also configured to block some applications you probably want to run. Leave it to Microsoft to screw up a perfectly good concept. You still need third-party software here. The above mentioned Norton will also take care of this for you.
Also try comparison shopping for other personal firewall software. Zone Alarm has a free non-commercial version available. I’ve used it and recommend it to any Windows user.
And finally, no article I write about computer security would be complete without links to Linux resources. If you want to try out Linux without even installing it, go get Knoppix and burn it to CD. Then boot off the CD, and voila, you’re running Linux! It doesn’t install anything to your hard drive, so just take the CD out and reboot, and you’re back to Windows.
When you’re ready to take the plunge, go read Moving to Linux. This is a book for non-technical people considering switching from Windows to Linux. It will get you up and running fast and answer your first batch of “newbie” questions.
Then go get your Linux distribution: The big three are Fedora, Mandriva and SuSE. They all are mostly similar but have a few differences, so check them out carefully before you choose one. (Don’t let this startle you; after all, Ford, Chevolet and Chrysler have their differences, too.)
There’s much more I could write about this, but I can see your head is spinning already. If you have comments or questions, use the box below, or the one in the upper right corner to find the answer yourself. Cheers!