Computer Actions to Prevent Malware Infections


Many of the actions discussed in this article are common sense, but surprisingly large numbers of people do not pay attention to them. Taking these steps will help you prevent a malware infection of your computer system.


Test Your System.
 It is a good idea to test your system. Several Web sites provide free security tests. These tests send different types of messages to your computer to evaluate how well your system is protected from a variety of attacks. Free testing Web sites include: HackerWhacker (www.hackerwhacker.com), Shields Up! (www.grc.com), Symantec Security Check (http://security.norton. com), McAfee MySecurity Status (http://us.mcafee.com/MySecurityStatus/), and AuditMyPC (www.auditmypc.com). Microsoft provides a scanning tool called the Microsoft Baseline Analyzer. This useful tool scans Windows-based computers for common security problems and generates individual security reports for each computer that it scans. The Baseline Analyzer is a free download available at this Web site: www.microsoft.com/technet/security/tools/mbsa2/default.mspx

You can also run free malware scans on your computer. Several companies will scan your computer to identify viruses, worms, and other malware, and also offer suggestions about how to clean your system if it is infected. These companies include:
• Trend Micro
• McAfee
• Panda Software
Install a Security Suite on Your Computer. Security suites are software packages that contain a variety of security products, such as anti-malware software, spam protection, e-mail fraud protection, spyware detection, intrusion detection, monitoring software, and others. As you can see, these suites provide a great deal of functionality in one package. There is a question whether the individual functions in a security suite can match the combined functions of a group of individual products. Therefore, we discuss individual products in the next sections. Well-known security suites include the following, but there are many others:
 
• ZoneAlarm Security Suite (www.zonelabs.com)
• McAfee Internet Security Suite (www.mcafee.com)
• Norton Internet Security (www.symantec.com)
• PC-cillin Internet Security (www.trendmicro.com)

Install an Anti-Malware Product on Your Computer.
You should install an anti-malware product on your computer and use it, ideally at least once per week. Remember that every time you scan your computer for malware with your anti-malware product, you must update your malware definitions before you scan. Typically, anti-malware product vendors automatically update your malware definitions over the Web. There are free anti-malware products and commercial anti-malware products. In general, the free products are adequate, but the commercial products offer more functionality. Thefreecountry.com is an excellent resource offering a great deal of information on free anti-malware products, as well as many other security products. For free anti-malware products, see www.thefreecountry.com/security/antivirus.shtml. Well-known commercial anti-malware products include the following, but there are many others: Norton Anti-malware (www.symantec.com),
PC-cillin (www.trendmicro.com), and VirusScan (www.mcafee.com).

Install a Firewall on Your Computer.
A personal firewall is software installed on your home computer that controls communications to and from your computer by permitting or denying communications based on your security settings. A personal firewall will not usually protect any more than the computer on which the software is installed. Nevertheless, firewalls perform essential functions. Essentially, firewalls should make your computer invisible. This means that your firewall should not respond to Internet requests to ports—that is, communications links to your computer—that are not used for common Internet use. In effect, your computer operates in stealth mode on the Internet. Firewalls also should alert you to suspicious behavior. They should tell you when a program or connection is attempting to do something unwanted, such as download software or run a program such as ActiveX. ActiveX (by Microsoft), which can execute programs downloaded from Internet Explorer, can be exploited by attackers trying to compromise your computer. Finally, firewalls should block outbound connections that you do not initiate. Your firewall should not let your computer access the Internet on its own. If your computer tries to access the Internet by itself, this is a sure sign that it is infected with malware. As with anti-malware programs, there are both free firewall products and commercial firewall products. Again, the free products are adequate, but the commercial products offer more functionality.

It is a good idea to test your firewall. However, it is best to use only those Web sites that are run by actual firewall or security software companies. A good firewall test site is the McAfee Hackerwatch site at www.hackerwatch.org/probe/. The Hackerwatch site allows you to do a basic probe test on your computer to see if your firewall is blocking ports that may be vulnerable.

Install an Antispyware Product on Your Computer.
 As with anti-malware products and firewalls, free antispyware products are adequate, but commercial antispyware products offer more functionality. Free antispyware products include Ad-Aware SE Personal (www.lavasoft.com)  and Spybot Search&Destroy (www.safer-networking.org). Well-known commercial antispyware products include the following, but there are many others: CounterSpy (www.sunbeltsoftware.com), Spy Sweeper (www.webroot.com), Ad-Aware (www.lavasoft.com), SpyCatcher (www.tenebril.com), and Spyware Eliminator (www.aluriasoftware.com). Several companies offer free spyware scans. Take a look at Spy Audit (www.webroot.com), Zonelabs (www.zonelabs.com),  and Norton (www.symantec.com).

Install Monitoring Software on Your Computer.
Monitoring software logs keystrokes, emails, applications, windows, Web sites, Internet connections, passwords, chat conversations, Web cams, and even screenshots. Companies that offer monitoring software include SpyAgent (www.spytech-web.com),  SpyBuddy (www.exploreanywhere.com),  WinSpy (www.win-spy.com), and SpectorSoft www.spectorsoft.com).

Install Content Filtering Software on Your Computer.
Content filtering software performs many functions. It can block access to undesirable Web sites, and record and view all Web sites visited. It can also record both sides of chat conversations from AOL Instant Messenger (AIM and AIM Triton), Yahoo Messenger, and MSN Messenger. This software provides many filter categories, enabling you to selectively filter content. Companies that offer content filtering software include Cybersitter (www.cybersitter.com), NetNanny (www.netnanny.com), and CyberSpy (www.cyberspyware.com). In addition, a free content filtering software product may be found at www.we-blocker.com. Internet Explorer’s Content Advisor utility allows you to block access to Web sites that meet specified criteria and to set your own tolerance levels for various types of Internet content.

Install Antispam Software on Your Computer.
Antispam software helps you to control spam. Well-known commercial antispam products include the following, but there are many others:
• Cloudmark (www.cloudmark.com)
• MailFrontier Desktop (www.mailfrontier.com)
• SpamKiller (www.mcafee.com)
• Norton Antispam (www.symantec.com)
• SpamGourmet (www.spamgourmet.com)

You might also want to set up multiple free e-mail accounts, such as accounts on hotmail and gmail. Then, as you surf the Internet and are asked for your e-mail address, you use one of these accounts and not your home or business e-mail account. When your free e-mail accounts are full of spam, you can close them and open new accounts.

Install Proactive Intrusion Detection and Prevention Software on Your Computer.
As we have discussed, anti-malware software is reactive in nature, leaving you vulnerable to zeroday attacks. For this reason, it is important to add proactive intrusion detection and prevention software to your defenses. One such product is Prevx www.prevx.com). You can download and install Prevx for free, and it will scan your computer for malicious software. If it finds any, it will activate a free 30-day clean-up account and remove the malware from your computer. Once this period runs out, Prevx will continue to scan incoming programs and protect your computer from them. However, if you subsequently get infected and want to continue using Prevx, you must pay for one year of protection.

Use an Operating System Other Than Windows. The two main alternatives to Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 are Apple’s Mac OS X and Linux. These two operating systems are not invulnerable but they are both based on UNIX, which makes them inherently more secure than any version of Windows. (UNIX is an operating system developed by AT&T in the 1960s and 1970s that usually
runs on servers rather than desktops.) In addition, Linux and Mac OS X have much smaller market shares than Windows and thus are less attractive targets for malware.

Use a Browser Other Than Internet Explorer.
You might want to use a browser other than Internet Explorer, such as Firefox (www.mozilla.org), Opera (www.opera.com), or Safari from Apple (http://www.apple.com/macosx/features/safari/). These browsers are not impregnable, but they are less prominent and hackers, at least so far, have paid less attention to them. Even if you decide to use a browser other than Internet Explorer, however, you should still implement all of the security measures discussed. You should also keep your browser updated. For browser updates of Internet Explorer 6, see this site: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/ie6/downloads/default.mspx.

Manage Patches.
You should download and install all patches immediately (for example, patches for Windows). Software patches are typically released to repair security problems. As soon as patches are announced and released, hackers use zero-day attacks to exploit them before unwary users react. Therefore, if you do not download and install patches quickly, your computer will be extremely vulnerable to attack. Microsoft provides an automatic method that checks for, and downloads, any new patches.

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