Basic Security Setup

[updated 2011.8.8]

This is intended to be a basic set of precautions to take for your computer.  It is not guaranteed to prevent all problems, or be compatible with all applications or setups, but it should help to lock down a Windows PC well enough to block or catch the worst threats.  However, use any of these steps or programs at your own risk and read the information provided by them before installing.  Also, you don’t have to install toolbars or provide a valid email address if you’d prefer to blank those options.

If you have a Mac or Linux system, these have been found to be vulnerable also.  Be sure to get anti-virus and other protection designed for your system.

Note: the following programs have free versions, but you might have to hunt for the free version on the same site that’s promoting a pay version.

1. Anti-virus

If you already have a good working anti-virus program, skip this step — multiple anti-virus programs tend to fight each other.

All campus-owned computers have an anti-virus (usually Sophos or AVG) installed.  Do NOT try to install any additional programs on campus computers.

There are a number of free versions of anti-virus programs available for your own personal computer.  Here are some highly recommended examples.  Remember, only ONE is needed.  (AVG, while popular, has had some compatibility problems with library software recently, so it is not recommended at this time.

2. Firewall

Windows XP and Vista come with their own firewalls; see the instructions in them on how to enable that if you like.

All campus computers are inside the campus network firewall.  An additional firewall is not usually needed for them.

Some more powerful (and better-recommended) programs to use instead are:

Remember that only one should be necessary.  You may be able to do an advance scan with some firewalls (Comodo, for example), so do that as well to check for malware.

3. Updating

Microsoft Windows in General:

All campus computers receive downloads via the network.  These are tested first to make sure they are compatible with our network, so normally campus computers only need updating when you see the little yellow shield in the system tray (the row of icons at the bottom right of the screen next to the time).

Any time you see the little yellow shield, click on the shield and install them as soon as possible but REMEMBER – you may need to reboot afterwards, so be prepared to shut down all other programs once the installation is done — Windows will keep reminding you until you do.

For your personal computer, check the Help file in Windows on how to enable Microsoft Updates.  This can be set to happen automatically, or to at least notify you when updates are available.  (If you set it to notify, it can be easier to control the timing so it won’t conflict with anything else you’re doing.)

Program Updating

These are free for personal use and a great way to keep the latest (and usually safest) updated version of your software on your computer.

Both of these will check your computer and tell you about any programs you need to update, and give you safe links to use to download those updates.

SPECIAL NOTE: if Secunia keeps telling you that a program is out of date (Java, for example) when you already updated it and re-scanned, the old version may still be on your computer (as some programs just add another version, not replace the old one, Java being a prime example). Use Control Panel, Add or Remove Programs, and remove the oldest (lowest number) version(s) — all but the latest. Then re-scan with Secunia.

For Firefox, also install the Update Notifier addon, and set your Firefox options to update:  Tools > Options > Advanced tab > Updates tab and click all the boxes to update, and Automatically download and Warn me boxes.  If an update makes one of your addons obsolete, Firefox will then warn you and let you search for a newer version (if available yet).

Safer Surfing

Adding all of these programs to watch your web surfing will help you avoid some of the worst sites out there.  They can all be working — what one doesn’t catch, another may, as they update at different times.

  • Web of Trust (WOT) very important: go to this site with Firefox, and then AGAIN with Internet Explorer. By getting both versions, you protect yourself using either browser.  This will popup and tell you if a site is not trustworthy.  Set the level (when you first install it) to only warn you about dangerous sites (the second level) and it should be safe.
  • McAfee Site Advisor sometimes a little slow on the update, but still a useful tool.  This will show a rating on each site.
  • Spybot can scan your computer after installation, and then watch for any new malware.

REMEMBER: all the above need to be updated too, for the latest tricks and sites, so be sure to approve updates for them whenever you are alerted to do so.

What You Do to Avoid Trouble

Some sites you visit, then or sometime after you leave, will cause a popup to show claiming you have a virus, trying to scare you into letting something “scan” you (they really mean scam you) or download “anti-virus protection”.

DO NOT EVER CLICK ON THESE WARNINGS unless they come from programs you already have installed (such as the ones listed above).  If you don’t recognize the name, it’s a trick to get you to accept something bad.

Instead, close all programs and reboot.  If you still get the popup warnings after you reboot, call for help from the campus Help Desk for campus computers, or use programs such as those above to scan your computer.

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