I’ve received two emails in the last week asking me what software I recommend to secure computers from viruses and malware, so I thought I’d address the issue here. These are only my opinions. Others may disagree. Fine. As long as you know enough about it to have an opinion, you’re probably pretty safe, and that’s the whole idea of this column.

The first line of defense against baddies from the Net is the wetware. What, you might ask, is that? Simple — it’s the computer between your ears, and its peripherals. You, in other words. If you don’t use common sense, no software will keep you safe. So here are some wetware rules:

  • Don’t click on links in emails unless you’re sure you know where they lead. Mouse over the link. The address will show in the lower corner of your browser. If you have any doubt at all, go to the company’s site by typing the basic address (everything up to .com, and nothing from after it) into your browser window.
  • Don’t click on links in web pages indiscriminately. Use a browser plugin like SiteAdvisor to help you decide what’s safe. When in doubt, don’t.
  • Never open an email attachment that originated with a stranger. I don’t care if your brother opened it and nothing happened. He doesn’t know that. Don’t trust third party attachments, period. If you feel compelled to open one, download it to your desktop, run all the scans you can, and then take your chances.
  • If you get an attachment from someone you know, and you weren’t expecting it, don’t open it until you have checked with them to make sure they sent it (see above). There are programs that can raid people’s email contacts and send malware from faked addresses that are familiar to you. If they created it themselves, it’s probably safe.
  • Keep all your software up to date. Scan your computer at least once a month with Secunia’s Software Inspector and allow it to dig for applications that need updating. There are good instructions on the site, and it will provide you with links to the updates.
  • Keep your operating system updated. Run Windows Update regularly, or leave it turned on all the time if you trust Microsoft that much. If you use another operating system, make sure it’s up to date too. People are writing viruses and malware for Macs as we speak, and Linux isn’t perfectly safe, either.
  • Use an alternative browser. I know some of you will say Internet Explorer is safe if you keep it patched, and that Firefox and the others have security problems too. Horse manure. Any browser that avoids the Internet Explorer rendering engine has to be safer. BTW: don’t be fooled by browser shells that still use the IE kernel, such as Maxthon browser, Avant Browser, Clickgarden, Crazy Browser, Deepnet Explorer, and 4c vision. Firefox, Opera, Safari for Windows, and the other non-Microsoft browsers are safer. Period.

Now we come to what I personally use in terms of software. Your opinions may vary, and feel free to express them. This is what I do for my own PCs, and it’s what I’d do for my mom’s if she was using one at age 98.

First of all, I don’t like security suites. My own experience and everything I’ve read leads me to think that stand-alone programs designed specifically for one task do a better job, use fewer resources, and cause fewer problems. When they do cause problems, they’re easier to isolate because you can shut the individual programs down one at a time to check things out. My computer security is based on this premise. If you’re having good luck with a suite, more power to you.

Anti-virus: Eset’s NOD-32, the highest-rated system out there. $39.00 US/year, or $29.25/yr. on a 2-year subscription. Updates daily — often multiple.

Software firewall: Comodo Firewall Pro (free), the highest-rated system out there. There might be a few more warning screens than some folks like, but I’d rather that than too little protection.

Anti-malware program: Comodo BOClean. It’s harder to get good ratings for this kind of software, but the folks who use it swear by it. I’ve had no failures that I know of. It’s free, too.

Backup anti-malware: Ad-Aware SE Personal (free): No anti-malware system is perfect. I run BOClean constantly, and scan once a week with Ad-Aware. NOD-32 has a malware scanner incorporated as well, so I’m pretty well covered.

You will note that the total cost of my protection is the $29 bucks a year for NOD-32. That’s pretty bloody cheap for some of the best protection at any price!

Lots more about computer security here.

Of course, your mileage may vary.

[tags]computer security, firewalls, adware, malware, viruses, common sense[/tags]