PC Security Tools and Tips

PC security is something that we’re all familiar with. At some point we have all been inundated with some form of malware during normal computer use. Here I will explain my own personal methods of preventing attacks and important things that everyone who is connected to the internet should be doing. This is just the tip of the ice berg for internet security. There are a lot of more advanced topics that I will not cover here. If you have any questions please post them here, and I will respond or make a video tutorial.

Topics Covered:

  • Passwords
  • Antivirus
  • Firewalls
  • Web Browsers
  • Web Based Backups

First – Passwords

In my experience the number one vulnerability in internet security is insufficient passwords. It is extremely common for people to use the same password for every online login. This is just about the worst thing you can do. For example, if your Facebook account password is compromised, and you are using the same password for your email, bank account, online bill pay, etc. then all of them can easily be compromised. This means that someone could easily acquire your bank account numbers, credit card numbers, email contacts, hoe address, family member contact information etc.

So, what can you do to help prevent this.

  1. Use strong passwords
    • A list of the most commonly used passwords of 2011 can be found here.
    • When creating a strong password you should remember a few key things.
      •  A longer password is significantly better than a short password.
      • Next, remember that in most cases you can use all “printable characters” for sites. This means that you can use uppercase, lowercase and special characters such as !,@,#,$,{ etc. Utilizing as many of these available characters will help create a robust password.
      • Next, remember to use a unique password for each service you use. This may seem like a a big hassle, but there are a few options to make this very easy. First would be to use a system that makes sense to you and is therefore easy to remember. For example, take the number 1 most used insecure password of 2011: “password”. Using this tool this could be hacked almost instantaneously. But if you used capital letters and special characters such as “PaS$w0rD” it bumps it up to 57 days to hack. Now consider adding some numbers to the end “PaS$w0rD13579” and you get up to 423 million years. So now you can use the “PaS$w0rD13579” as a base and then add something to the end for each site that you use such as the fist few letters of the URL in the address bar, so for Facebook you get “PaS$w0rD13579FAC” which gives you 193 trillion years.
      • Now you have a decent password for one site which has a base that can be easily modified so that you have a unique password for any site.
      • You also may be wondering why would I ever need a password that can take 193 trillion years to crack? In reality the tool used is simply a statistical calculation. So it just calculates how long it would take an average computer to go through all of the possible variations of the password given the available characters and the length of the password. When a hacker wants to crack a password they generally have many computers at their disposal for an attack and they have things like dictionary, or rainbow table attacks that are pre-calculated possible passwords that significantly decreases the time need to crack a password.
  2. Use an encrypted password manager.
    • There is an excellent and free tool called LastPass that makes the above process even easier. This tool is a web browser add-on that keeps track of all of your user names and passwords for each site that you log in to. So now you can create a secure password for each individual site and now you just have to remember one master password for LastPass and it does the rest for you as you browse the web.
    • LastPass also has other features such as form filling, which can auto fill your name address, phone number, credit card number, etc.
    • Important note: All of the information you enter into LastPass is encrypted. This mean that not even the company can retrieve any information without a master password. Your master password is also encrypted, which means that if you ever forget your master password your account cannot ever be retrieved.

Second – Antivirus and Firewall

  • Any computer that is going to be connected to the internet at some point should have an antivirus program installed. Most antivirus programs today include antispyware, antimalware, and antiphishing combined.
  • Another thing that every computer that is connected to the internet should have is a software firewall. A software firewall is a piece of software that prevents  intrusions on your computer from the internet. It does this by making your computer invisible to an intruder.
  • There are many choices when it comes to picking antivirus and firewall programs. A lot of companies now make this simpler by making suites that include antivirus and firewall in one. This is not always the best option however because companies are note generally known for making both top notch antivirus and firewall software. There are also free options for those of you who cannot justify spending money for security.
  • Another type of firewall  is a “hardware” firewall. This is actually still a software firewall but it refers to something that is not installed on your computer, such as a router, wireless router, or a dedicated firewall. An Important thing to note is that a modem will rarely have a firewall on it. This means that if your ISP delivers your service through a modem you should put a router in between the modem and your computer. Note: This type of firewall will not interfere with a software firewall that is on your computer.

Third – Web Browsers

  • Web browsers are one of the primary ways that most people are directly connected to the internet. Since this is the case it only makes sense that we should take precautions at this level and harden the web browser. The three most popular web browsers are Internet ExplorerMozilla Firefox, and Google Chrome.
  • Each of these has their own forms of security vulnerabilities but Internet Explorer tends to be the most vulnerable. Firefox usually comes in next, and finally Chrome as generally the most secure. The reason Chrome is more secure than the others is that it runs certain programs like Adobe flash in a sandbox. This means that if there is a zero day vulnerability then there is significantly less risk to you. Most web browser threats come from necessary apps like Adobe flash or java. Both of these have hit the tech news world recently with very big vulnerabilities which have since been patched. The good news to the Java is not used nearly as often as it used to be. This means that most people could completely remove Java from their system and never notice while making themselves more secure. Since other programs like Adobe flash are used so often is is extremely important to update these programs any time an update is available.
  • The next thing you can do after choosing a more secure web browser is selecting some very useful browser extensions.
    • First up is HTTPS Everywhere. This tells you browser to make a secured connection to web site whenever available.
    • Next, WOT (Web Of Trust). This uses cloud based rating for web sites and gives you small indicators of sites. These indicators tell you whether or not you are going to an insecure site or if a legitimate site has been compromised.
    • Lastly is LastPass. This was mentioned above in the passwords section.

Web Based Backups

Web based backup services like Dropbox or Carbonite can make life much easier. There are however some privacy concerns. Not all of the services encrypt your files properly so there is a serious risk of someone being able to view your files.  This leaves you with a couple of options. First, don’t store any sensitive files that you would not want anyone else to see. Second, if you are storing sensitive files in the cloud then use an encryption program like Truecrypt to make an encrypted container so that no one can ever read the files inside without a master password.


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