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Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: 5 Essential Steps To PC Security

As the new year begins, Fred Langa says keep these items in mind to help prevent data theft, identity theft, and private information falling into the wrong hands. These steps will give you 365 days of safe computing.

Prevent Subversion
Even the best antivirus tools can't protect against all the many classes and types of malware that can take over your PC or compromise your data security. But there are many additional tools -- free or low-cost -- that can tie up the remaining loose ends and close off all the most common remaining trouble spots.

Tools like Microsoft's free (and excellent) Antispyware and Javacool's SpywareBlaster can either prevent spyware and other malware from being installed on your PC in the first place; or can help find and eliminate it after the fact.

Tools like StartUpMonitor or WinPatrol can help monitor and prevent attempts by malware to insert itself into your PC's startup sequence.

And tools like Spybot S&D and Ad-Aware can provide focused searches for many kinds of malware.

Some of these tools can even perform multiple functions, combining several kinds of protection into a single tool, and giving you overlapping levels of protection, helping to ensure that anything that might slip by one tool can be caught by another.

Lock It Down
At the simplest level, a good password can help prevent access to your system login or to Administrator-level functions. Or, more securely, you can also encrypt and password-protect your files, folders, or even entire drives on your PC, making them all but immune to snoops and data thieves.

The information in "How To Build Better Passwords", plus the many password-related discussions here can help ensure that your passwords are as hard-to-crack as they need to be. "Easy Encryption" will help you find and choose the best encryption tools for your needs. And Microsoft's "Test the strength of your passwords" tool offers a simple way to check your password-generation techniques.

Relatedly, a new, free tool from Microsoft will help you build password-protected limited-access accounts so others may use your PC without undue risk to the privacy or security of your own (or Admin-level) files and privileges. Full information, and the free download, is available here.

With good passwords to limit access to your PC, its accounts, and to your important files and folders, you can achieve the final measure of security, making your system and the information it contains virtually immune to the normal forms of attack.

But Don't Trust: Test
Once your PC is set up with a solid array of protections, take the time to ensure that everything's working as it should. For example, you can test your firewall's ability to prevent common "phone home" attacks with the free "Leaktest". Other free tools also are useful at identifying, testing, and closing some other common attack vectors.

BroadbandReport's fast, free Port Scan tools can help exercise your online defenses in a controlled way, probing for weaknesses.

And there are many, many other testing sites available, too. You'll find quite a list in "The Best PC Help, Reference, And Test Sites". That article is now a few years old, but most of the information and links are still fine. A somewhat newer newsletter item, "How Do You Know If Protections Are Really Working?" also covers the same subject area.

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