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Internet Tips: Bolster Your Defenses Against Net Threats
Posted By:peer On 6/19/2006

Bolster Your Defenses Against New Net Threats
Our Internet Tool Kit 2006 gives you the tools you need to do the job--for free.

Scott Spanbauer
From the May 2006 issue of PC World magazine

Zombie-PC armies, rootkits, browser exploits, and other Internet pests are more prevalent than ever. By taking a few minutes to strengthen your system's protective shields, you can stay free of the viruses, backdoor programs, and spyware currently prowling for victims. Here are my Internet safety kit recommendations for 2006 (see "101 Fabulous Freebies" for more great downloads).

Safer Browsers Ahead

Microsoft is hard at work crafting a more secure successor to Internet Explorer 6 (Click here to read Editor in Chief Harry McCracken's impression of the IE 7 beta). If you're careful, you can use IE 6 to browse the Web without getting burned by drive-by downloads, especially if you keep the program patched via automatic Windows updates (click here for instructions on setting Windows to update automatically). Still, one wrong click in an ActiveX-control pop-up, and your machine could be hosed. Firefox 1.5 and Opera 8.5 shield you from ActiveX exploits simply because they don't run the sometimes-malicious scripts that are frequently embedded in Web pages. Like IE 6 with Windows XP's Service Pack 2, the two browsers block pop-ups; but unlike IE (without the MSN Search Toolbar), they feature tabbed browsing that lets you move between open Web pages more easily. The good thing about browsers is that you don't have to limit yourself to using just one; all three will coexist happily on your system.

Windows XP comes with its own firewall, enabled by default in Service Pack 2 (if you don't have Service Pack 2, Click here using IE, ASAP). But the Windows Firewall blocks only incoming traffic, and it doesn't prevent nasty software that may already be running on your computer or in your browser from communicating back out to its author's server. I still recommend Zone Labs' free ZoneAlarm firewall for its easy-to-understand interface and warnings. Agnitum's Outpost Firewall Free is another excellent firewall. (See "Internet Tool Kit 2006" to download the programs in this story.)

After you install a bidirectional firewall, you'll need to disable the Windows Firewall by launching Control Panel's Security Center. Click the Windows Firewall link at the bottom of the window, select Off (not recommended) in the resulting dialog box, and then click OK (see Figure 1).

Grisoft's free AVG Anti-Virus remains my top pick for antivirus protection, but I also use Alwil's Avast 4 Home Edition.

Spurn Spyware

Webroot's $30 Spy Sweeper was our favorite antispyware tool in the roundup of 11 such products that we tested for November's "Best Defenders" feature, but three free products performed nearly as well as the fee-based programs did. For better results than we got testing them individually, use both Lavasoft's Ad-Aware SE Personal Edition and Safer Networking's Spybot Search & Destroy. When used in conjunction with your updated browser, firewall, and antivirus applications, these spyware detectors will greatly reduce your risk of being victimized--at least until something even more dangerous comes along. And whatever security tools you use, be sure they're set to update automatically and to scan your system on a regular schedule.

Internet Tool Kit 2006

Make sure you have the most recent versions of these programs.

Send your questions and tips to nettips@spanbauer.com.

More very useful internet tips are available at:

http://www.pcworld.com/31523

 



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