Ten steps to Malware Prevention – Part 1
With "always on" Internet access there are added risks, therefore there is a growing requirement for protection against hacking and malware. Just as the computers on the web sites that you visit are accessible to you, your compter is also accessible to other computers when online. With some simple tweaks to the Windows OS which includes Internet Explorer browser and using few freeware protection tools with infinite commonsense when online it is possible to make your system a tough nut to crack.
These tips and ideas are designed to protect your system not only against spyware/adware, but also to protect against the whole range of malware including computer viruses, trojans,worms and to a considerable extent to protect against the malicious hackers. Remember even the best protected system is not 100% watertight.
Malware/Spyware Prevention Guide
A firewall is a hardware and/or software that is designed to be your first line of defense against unauthorized users accessing your system. For most home users a personal software firewall will do the intended job very nicely. A personal firewall will allow you to create rules as to what software on your system may access the Internet and when. It will also let you create different security levels for different areas of the Net leaving the control in your hand. It will also alert you as to when an unknown, unauthorized intruder is probing your system. You'll be surprised, and dismayed, as to how often it really happens.
The perfect personal firewall would be inexpensive and easy to install and use, would offer clearly explained configuration options, would hide all ports to make your PC invisible to scans, would protect your system from all attacks, would track all potential and actual threats, would immediately alert you to serious attacks, and would ensure nothing unauthorized entered or left your PC.
This is a great definition is from Jeff Sengstack in PC World.
For basic explanation about firewalls in general visit: howstuffworks.com.
There are number of free personal firewall software available for download. Only some of them are worth your time and your effort. Currently the top slots seem to be occupied by Zone Alarm Free, Sygate Personal Firewall, Kerio Personal Firewall and Outpost Free – all stripped down versions of their respective professional versions but adequate for a home user.
Considering the ease of use balanced with must-have features I would recommend choosing Kerio Personal Firewall for the new user.
Whatever is your choice, if you are using Windows XP version, please note to turn off the built in firewall before you install the new firewall. Never use two software firewalls at the same time as it may conflict with each other.
More than any other kind of malware, computer viruses are one of the single biggest threats facing computer users today. The simple act of opening a seemingly benign email attachment can be enough to bring a computer to its knees. In order to protect your computer from such attacks, it's wise to use good quality anti-virus software! AntiVirus software is designed in such a way they detect and remove harmful viruses before they can do any harm to your data and the computer. They does not need to be expensive to work well – indeed, there are some highly reputable anti-virus programmes that are available totally free of charge.
Since new viruses are being written everyday it is essential that any antivirus software is regularly updated to protect your system from these new viruses.
In view of the comprehensive features offered in the free edition – IM protection, P2P protection, support also for non-microsoft e-mail clients and for POP3/SMTP mail – I plump for Avast 4 Home Edition for the home users. To round it off nicely, Alwil the developers of Avast also offer support via e-mail for the free edition.
A typical Microsoft OS now contains over 50 million lines of code and due to its complexity, it is inevitable that unintentional elements will have crept into the programming. This may mean the OS not functioning as it was designed to but more critically it may also mean that a security vulnerability has been created, which could be exploited. Microsoft continue to test the OS even after its launch and release periodic updates and critical updates (patches). Microsoft also release Service Packs to support their various applications. They are a cumulative rollup of all Critical Updates and fixes to-date, released in one convenient package. The various updates and service packs are provided free of cost to the Windows users.
Every month Microsoft publish security bulletins that detail the latest known vulnerabilities. These security bulletins are also monitored by malware creators who write viruses and other malware – within days usually – designed to exploit published vulnerabilities. When these malware are released, they are able to infect computers not patched with the latest updates. So it becomes imperative to download and install the security updates and patches as soon as they are announced.
This regimen of dutiful updates are also recommended to updates and patches released for Internet Explorer, Outlook express and Microsoft Office suite.
What is Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA)
MBSA is the free security scanner for Microsoft products which analyzes your computer (or even a group of computers) for missing patches/updates and common security mis-configurations. When run MBSA provides a checklist of configuration problems and missing updates/patches. The most important part of the security report provided by the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA) is the way information given on the lines of "What was scanned", Result details" and "How to correct this".
Some of the checks that MBSA performs:
- Check for missing Windows security updates
- Check for missing IE security updates
- Check for missing Windows Media Player security updates
- Check for missing Office security updates
- Check for file system type on hard drives
- Check if Auto Logon feature is enabled
- Check if Guest account is enabled
- Check the number of local Administrator accounts
- Check for blank or simple local user account passwords
- Check if unnecessary services are running
- Check if Internet Connection Firewall is enabled
- Check if Automatic Updates is enabled
- List the Internet Explorer security zone settings for each local user
- Check if Internet Explorer Enhanced Security Configuration is enabled for Administrators
- Check if Internet Explorer Enhanced Security Configuration is enabled for non-Administrators
- List the Office products security zone settings for each local user
MBSA can be installed and run on Microsoft Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Professional, Windows XP Home Edition, Windows XP Professional, and Windows Server 2003. The tool can be run over the network against Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Workstation, Windows XP Professional and Home Edition systems, and Windows Server 2003. Running MBSA against Windows NT, 95, 98 or Me systems is not supported.
- The "Workstation" and "Server" services must be enabled when scanning a local computer.
- MBSA needs internet access to download the Web-based XML file containing a list of up-to-date security bulletins from Microsoft. (If you ran the tool previously, it will use the local cached copy.)
Most unfortunately, there are some things that people only take seriously after they have experienced personally the pain that results from not taking them seriously. Backups definitely fall into this category. Most people are relatively nonchalant about them until disaster strikes–thereafter, they are much more diligent about backups (but after the damage is done.) Here's a mental exercise that you can do to help you understand how important backups are. Take a look at your PC and think about what is on it. Think about your data and your programs. Consider how much time it took to create the data, and to set up and tweak your PC so that it works the way you like. Now imagine that one morning you go to your desk and the PC has vanished without a trace. What will you do?
Let's suppose you had insurance on the hardware, and a week later a new PC shows up at your door with a fresh new, clean hard disk. Now what? Most people who ask themselves this question seriously, begin to take backups much more seriously. (Fortunately, for most people the exercise is only a mental exercise, but don't think it can't happen to you in the real world.)
Recovering from a disaster such as a total disk crash or theft of a PC box can be a very traumatic event, much more than most PC users realize. This is true even if backups exist; when they don't exist the situation is much, much worse. The pain of recovering from a disaster is almost always very high, and the cost is primarily in the time required to recreate the lost data. For even a small business, this can run into the thousands of dollars very quick…..
Charles M. Kozierok of The PC Guide.
A valuable lesson then, don't underestimate the importance of backups. Make a backup of your critical files regularly, after having scanned them with an antivirus program.
A tutorial to help you start backing up, if you are not doing it already.
YOUR GUIDE to never losing another file – Alex Zaharov-Reutt and Simon Williams.
There is a more than a big chance that you are using the browser that came with your operating system. As more than 85% of the desktop users prefer running or forced to run a flavor of the Windows OS and as IE is tightly integrated into the OS, it becomes imperative that you take precautions to secure the browser by modifying its default behavior.
If you ask a geek about how to secure the Internet explorer, the immediate reply would be "Don't bother, use an alternate browser like Mozilla or Opera" as they are more secure by default. It'll be worthwhile to switch over to an alternative browser and keep Internet Explorer for the "must use" situations.
Why should you consider switching over to an alternate browser and minimize the use of Internet Explorer
There are many disadvantages to using Internet Explorer as your primary web browser, mostly security related (Active X and Active Scripting makes it relatively easy to install Malware on your computer without you knowing about it and the numerous issues/vulnerabilities that existed and still exist) and incomplete and incorrectly implemented core standards used for web authoring. This is despite the fact that Windows XP Service Pack 2 introduced many new security features for Internet Explorer.
Secunia Highlights security flaws unpatched (not yet fixed) for Internet Explorer 6, although some of these flaws only affect Internet Explorer when running on certain versions of Windows or when running in conjunction with certain other applications.
On the contrary, alternate browsers like Mozilla, Firefox and Opera are a lot more secure and are much more resistant to Malware installation attempts. They are also way more standards compliant than IE and as any Mozilla or Opera user can tell you, you're losing out on many features that make alternative browsers so attractive.
Need more convincing? Check out the following links:
- Firefox Leaves No Reason to Endure Internet Explorer
- Internet Explorer Is Too Dangerous to Keep Using
- Why I dumped Internet Explorer
- Why You Should Dump Internet Explorer
- No! Don't use Internet Explorer!
A note about Internet Explorer shells
An IE shell like Maxthon, Slim Browser, Avant Browser and Crazy Browser adds functionality by providing a feature rich interface, but be aware that they are really IE beneath their pretty skin. These shells are also affected by the security vulnerabilities found in IE and are also limited by the IE's rendering engine in displaying web pages correctly.
Is it impossible to secure IE at all?
With few tweaks and some third-party software, Internet Explorer can be made almost as secure as any other browser out there.
The emphasis is on getting the security settings right which match your needs for security and privacy balanced with the ease of use which you may be accustomed to. What this boils down to is that you must decide what risks you are willing to take in order to view various Web content. Unfortunately we are forced into choosing between increasing our online security and privacy, or reducing the accessibility of certain content on the web, but that is the way it is.
Check out this page for Configuring Internet Explorer 6 for Practical Security and Privacy
This concludes Part 1 of Malware/Spyware Prevention Tutorial.
Ten steps to Malware Prevention – Part 2