Most of the programs listed here are available to use completely free of charge, except as noted. Many of these programs, in my experience, end up working better than some of the so-called professional commercial security tools, although they may not have quite as flashy of a user interface. Securing your computer can be done without a huge amount of cost, or if you're determined, any at all.
Note: Many of these programs also list MD5 checksums with their downloads. I would recommend, first and foremost, that you download a hashing program, so that you can verify these checksums. If a downloaded file matches the checksum posted for it, there is a very good likelihood that you have downloaded an authentic file. This is an important step, because verifying the files ensures that they haven't been contaminated with virii or trojans that could compromise your data. For more information, see the section on hashes below.
- If you're looking for a completely free virus program that works fairly well, check out AVG Antivirus (freeware). This is the virus program that I currently run on my PC, with no problems (although it dodn't catch the Blaster worm).
-There are many commercial trojan scanners out there, to get rid of the more insidious programs an antivirus program won't catch, Agnitum's TauScan (commercial) is the trojan scanner I've used for a while - it has frequent database updates, and has been able to detect a high number of trojans in a number of tests (although it did miss one on my computer). Another one to consider is TrojanHunter, which is more featureful and catches a few more types of malicious files, albeit at a higher price.. I have yet to come across an absolutely ideal freeware alternative, but ProPorts by the Digital Underground scans for some common trojans, as well as monitors outgoing connections on popular ports for Trojans to exploit, and is also one of my top security tools.
-One thing to note is that even the software you use to browse the web can be vulnerable. If you use MIcrosoft Internet Explorer or Outlook Express, there are many known vulnerabilities - IE especially can download malicious spyware or adware directly to your computer simply by surfing the net. Mozilla is a free, open-source web service suite that also does HTML editing, email, newsgroups, IRC chat, and more. Not only is it immune to IE security holes, it has built-in popup blocking, tabbed browsing for easier web navigation, and many more improvements. Also available are standalone web browsers and email clients that are not as vulnerable to Microsoft security holes. If you still absolutely have to use IE, though, the next couple of entries can help you catch programs that attack through IE before they can do serious damage.
-To get rid of spyware, I use Spybot Search & Destroy (freeware). This free program has been indispensable in eliminating all manner of spyware inadvertently collected (and even snagged the trojan library that Tauscan missed). If you use IE as your browser, this is an must.
-If you're really interested in stomping drive-by downloads (ActiveX controls that download malware without your knowledge) from IE and spyware in general, check out the Javacool suite of security tools, including a program that immunizes your browser against hijackers and spyware (SpywareBlaster), and a program that gets rid of windows tracking items (MRUBlaster).
-I also use the Sygate Personal Firewall, which is free for noncommercial use. I used to recommend the Zone Alarm personal firewall, but negative reviews of certain intrusive features by a number of security experts (SpywareInfo among them) have caused me to no longer recommend them. Even though I also have a hardware firewall, a software firewall is used to prevent unauthorized programs from initiating web connections - another excellent way to keep viruses and trojans from compromising your system and sending your personal info to remote servers.
-Another great way to nail trojans is to use Mike Lin's Startup Monitor. This checks for programs setting an executable to run at startup, and pops up a window allowing you to decide whether to enable the program or not. ProPorts also has a similar feature, but I find that this one, along with Startup Control Panel, do a more complete job. Both programs are freeware.
-As one last measure, I ususally leave SysInternals' TCPView
running in the background. TCPView is a connection monitor, and it can
be set to show all current internet connections (i.e. security holes)
on your computer. If an app you don't know is accessing the internet
unexpectedly, there's a good chance you should be suspicious.
In addition, here are some things to check out if you're interested
in improving your privacy in addition to simply securing your PC:
This setting may be considered for some as overly paranoid, but if you want a safe PC, especially with a broadband connection, it's good to have the tools to know what's going on, and who's accessing your computer.One set of utilities that I should probably mention are the Extreme Power Tools, a large suite of programs put out by Radsoft that cover some of the applications discussed in this document. Since I was provided with a complimentary copy, I don't feel that it is ethical for me to give my opinion on it as an impartial review, but feel free to take a look at the site and decide for yourself (Note: this suite is not freeware - it is $145).
Happy Secure Computing! A page for Mac OS X security programs is now available, with a variety of (mostly) freeware programs for locking down your PC.
If you have any other freeware security programs that you think deserve a mention, email me and I'll give them a try.
- David Kibrick
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