Three Programs You Probably Need

by Rob Zorn
from the October 2004 Newsletter

To keep yourself secure whilst online these days, there are three types of programs you should probably consider having on your Windows machine, particularly if you don't consider yourself an expert, and especially if different people use the machine and you're not always sure what they're doing.

These three types of programs are, of course, an anti-virus application, something to help with spyware and a firewall.

The importance of an anti-virus program should hardly need underscoring in this day and age. The media is often abuzz with stories about new threats, though the recent mass proliferation of new viruses and variants has, admittedly, made the whole subject a little ho-hum. Nevertheless, they're an ever-present threat.

To guard against viruses the first thing you have to do is visit the Windows Update Page regularly. This will help ensure in the first place that you don't have the program bugs and vulnerabilities that viruses use in order to wreak their havoc. Secondly, you need to be with an ISP that filters your e-mails for viruses. This will remove 99% of the threat, but viruses can still get to you in other ways. These days viruses can connect to you straight across the Internet (bypassing your e-mail) and they can also arrive via floppy discs.

Some very good anti-virus programs are available free on the Internet. One we like to recommend is ClamWin which can be downloaded at www.clamwin.net. Choose Download from the menu on the left. You will be forwarded to a page where you can download the latest version. Click on the one nearest the top of the list that ends in set-up.exe. You don't need to download the src.zip files. The good thing about ClamWin is that its default installation settings don't need much in the way of tweaking. You can install it and forget it's there.

Another free anti-virus program often recommended is AVG AntiVirus. Click Download at the top of the page, and then click on Free Edition Download.

Spyware is also a clear danger present on most machines in one form or another. Spyware sneaks onto your machine often via programs that you or your kids have downloaded from the Net. It reports back to its maker about your online habits (as part of their market research). It may also cause ads to pop up at you (even when you're not online). It can mess with your settings and home page, and one of the most annoying things it does is use your connection to the Internet, slowing down the rate at which you can download the pages you really want. You can read a lot more about Spyware in an article from the June 2003 Newsletter: Along Came a Spyware.

There are several spyware removal tools available, and a couple are even free. Spybot Search and Destroy is available to download for free straight from Actrix at http://asgard.actrix.co.nz/files/security/spyware/spybotsd13.exe and it gets pretty good media reviews. The writer wants nothing more than that you say a prayer for him and his girlfriend.

It would be a good idea to read the quick tutorial once you have downloaded and installed Spybot Search and Destroy (roughly 3.5 MB in size). Open the program, click the Check for Problems button, and you're away. Spybot will search your system for most known spyware. It will then report all that it found in a list. The list is pretty good. You can click on each item to see what the piece of spyware is, who made it, and what it is designed to do.

Click the Fix Selected Problems button, and it will go and take care of as many of the problems as it can for you. Note that you may need to restart before it can finish getting rid of them all. An update button also features when you first start the program so you can get the latest spyware definitions just like with an anti-virus program. It is recommended that you run Spybot Search and Destroy once per week, and update it before you do.

Ad-aware is another free spyware removal program that gets good media reviews. This program's homepage is at http://lavasoft.element5.com/software/adaware/ and you can find download links at nearby locations there too.

Firewalls such as Zone Alarm are becoming more necessary these days, too, especially for people with broadband connections who are a specific target for hackers. Firewalls act like gatekeepers between your computer and the Internet. They are designed to only allow traffic and connections to or from your machine that you authorise.

Zone Alarm, for example, won't reply to hackers who are scanning the Internet looking for vulnerable machines, so most won't even discover you are there. This makes you much less of a likely target. Also, each time a program on your computer wants to make a connection to the Net, a warning pops up on your screen and you can choose whether to allow or disallow it in or out. This makes it very hard for spyware to report home undetected, and leaves you feeling reasonably secure. As long as Zone Alarm is quiet, you're probably surfing unmolested.

Again, Zone Alarm has free version. To download it, go to the Zone Labs web site (http://www.zonelabs.com/store/content/home.jsp). Click on Zone Alarm. This will take you through to the Security Suite page. Over on the right there is a list of variations on Zone Alarm ranging from Zone Alarm Pro to Zone Alarm Anti-Virus. You can purchase these if you want but the free one is available under the simple heading Zone Alarm. 

Downloading and installing programs shouldn't be too much of a drama. When you click on the download link, your computer should pop up a box asking whether you want to Run or Save the program. You should choose Save. Your computer will then ask you for a location. Use the drop down box to choose the desktop. This will make the program easy to find.

Once the download is complete, you should see a new icon on your desktop which you can then double-click to run and install. The makers of the programs in question want them to be easy to install, even for novices, so at any time you're asked a question during the install procedure, and you don't know what it means, you are fairly safe just clicking on Okay or Next. The recommended or normal option will be selected by default, and a default installation is exactly what you want.

Once any program is installed and you've opened it, have a look (usually under the File menu) for any tutorials that come with the program. These are designed to make it all simple to understand. If there isn't a tutorial, have a look under the Help menu (somewhere at the top of the program).

Happy safe surfing!