Saturday, January 22, 2005

Computer essentials

People ask me: “I know I need to make my computer secure for use on the Internet, but I don’t want to spend much money. Got any suggestions?”

If you’re like me, “free” is also one of your favorite words. Fortunately, “free” and “secure” aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive terms. Here are some recommendations for free programs I’ve found to be quite good in protecting you and your computer in your online experience.

You need an efficient anti-virus program. AVG Anti-Virus is user friendly, won’t
hog your system resources and is, consequently, fast. Get your copy at: http://www.grisoft.com/us/us_dwnl_free.php

You need a quality firewall. Sygate Personal Firewall that is a model of ease-of-use and does the job (http://smb.sygate.com/products/spf_standard.htm). If you want a different option, there’s no questioning the quality of ZoneAlarm’s firewall, but it’s not as user-friendly and can be more difficult to remove if you ever choose to uninstall it. Nevertheless, it will shield you from a lot of harm (www.zonelabs.com/store/content/company/products/znalm/freeDownload.jsp).

Don’t stop once you get a firewall and an anti-virus program in place. You really ought to check your computer for adware, spyware and data-mining programs that could be (probably are!) already on your system. Spybot Search & Destroy (http://www.spybot.info) works well and AdAware (http://lavasoft.element5.com/support/download) works even better. Get them both because they compliment each other well.

Many internet security issues involve the exploitation of holes in Microsoft’s browser, Internet Explorer. You can sidestep many of those threats by simply using a different browser. Mozilla’s Firefox is arguably superior to Explorer, is easy to install, blocks pop-up ads and will import your existing bookmarks/favorites from Internet Explorer. Its tabbed interface is a real boost, too, if you have a high-speed internet connection and are comparing information on several sites or often do research. It is available at: http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox.

You don’t want unnecessary records (login names, passwords, temporary files, etc.) just sitting on your computer, so pick up a couple of programs that will do some of the housekeeping for you very quickly and easily. That way, if your security is ever breached, you can have a little more piece of mind. Two worth installing and using - just remember, I didn't create the company or software names - are: CrapCleaner (www.ccleaner.com) and CleanMOCache (www.buttuglysoftware.com). Both of these programs run nearly instantly, are extremely easy to use and allow you to be very specific in what you do and do not want removed.