How To Protect Your Computer from Viruses and Hackers
What's the use of spending all the time and money it takes to build your own one-of-a-kind computer if you're not going to protect it? Deciding on good computer security is one of the most important decisions you'll make in the computer-building process. Let's spend a few moments talking about easy, affordable steps you can take to protect your computer's security, as well as the personal information stored on it.
Choosing a Good Router / Firewall
One of the most important security investments you can make is a good hardware firewall. Nowadays, for most home users and small businesses, that's pretty easy. Almost all broadband routers have built-in firewalls, and most of them are actually pretty decent.
When selecting a router, there are a number of factors to consider. For example, almost all consumer-grade routers have wireless capabilities nowadays, and most of them will provide basic functionality on the basic 802.11b,g, and n standards. But there are great differences in the performance and range between router models. It's always a good idea to check the reviews for the routers you are considering before laying out your money.
Newer, higher-end routers may also support the draft ac and ad standards, as well as some proprietary tricks to squeeze more data through the existing b, g, and n standards. But be careful: Sometimes these tricks require that you use the same manufacturer's equipment on the computer to match the router in order to get the maximum performance.
Some routers feature advanced QoS (Quality of Service) technology that allows you to prioritize and shape the traffic passing through the router. This kind of technology is very handy for gamers, VOIP users, and anyone who runs a server from their location.
If you're running a business behind the router (or if you just want maximum safety, certified by a reputable third party), then choose a router with an ICSA-Certified Firewall.
Properly Securing your Wireless Router
Whatever router you choose, there are a few important things you need to do to maximize your protection. You can change these settings by logging in to the router's Web interface as an administrator, usually by just typing its IP address in a web browser and entering the default user name and password. Some routers also include a CD with custom administration software. (See the documentation that came with your router for more specific instructions.)
Change the Router Password. Most routers ship with a default password of "password" or "admin," and most users never change the password. That enables literally anyone to hack into their routers! Luckily for you, you're smarter than they are; so one of the first things you should do is change the password to something hard to guess.
Enable WPA Wireless Encryption. All wireless routers are capable of encryption. Enabling encryption protects you in two ways. First of all, it scrambles all the data that passes wirelessly between the router and the devices that it serves. Secondly, it prevents unauthorized computers from attaching to the router.
If you don't have encryption enabled, anyone with a Wi-Fi-equipped laptop and the right software can park in your driveway and start sniffing your data. They can also connect to your network and use your Internet connection, which can get you in a lot of trouble -- especially if what they're doing with your Internet connection is illegal. It'll trace back to YOU.
Unauthorized users who connect to your router may also be able to poke around on your LAN and gain access to information on your computers; and if you haven't changed the password on the router (which, of course, you already did when you first set it up -- right?), they can take full control of it and change its settings, completely defeating the purpose of its firewall.
Long story short, use encryption. For maximum safety, choose WPA-2 encryption, and use a difficult-to-guess (but easy-to-remember) key. You can use full sentences as WPA keys, but remember that they have to be entered exactly right every time you connect a new wireless device to the router -- the capitalization, punctuation, and everything else must match what's stored in the router.
Don't use WEP encryption unless you absolutely have to. It's much too easy to crack. Use WPA-2 instead.
Change the SSID. The SSID is the name of the wireless network. Most routers ship with SSIDs that identify the maker, and sometimes the model number, of the router. Change it to something else, like PineTree, SnakeHips, Petunia -- anything, really. I suggest that you not use your name, though.
The reason for this is that you don't want to tip off a potential hacker as to what router you're using, just in case there are known security bugs with that model. (With the right software, a hacker can sniff out the make and model of the router, anyway, but why make it easier?)
Disable Remote Administration. Most routers have a remote administration function that allows the administrator to administer the router from anywhere in the world, usually on port 8080 or 8888. If you don't need this ability (and almost no one does), then disable it.
Check Regularly for Firmware Updates. From time to times, bugs are discovered that require a router's firmware to be updated. Some routers check this automatically every time you log in, but most require you to manually check for updates.
Choosing the Best Anti-virus Software
Good anti-virus software protects your computer from viruses, spyware, rogue software, and other potentially harmful code that others may try to inject into your computer. The best anti-virus applications also monitor for other potentially harmful things, like un-patched vulnerabilities; and some also include spam-filtering software.
Most anti-virus programs work in several ways. First of all, they compare all the traffic going into and out of the computer (as well as processes running, or trying to run, on the computer) with a database of known "signatures." The other thing they do is look for code and processes that just look fishy -- that is, they look like they're trying to do the kind of stuff that malware would do, even though they don't match any of the known signatures. This second type of checking in called heuristics, and it's how virus scanners look for brand-new malware that hasn't been identified before.
Anti-virus software vendors have a tough job. They have to update their software frequently enough to quickly recognize the newest viruses, which means at least several times a day. They also have to have heuristics that work well, but without a lot of false positives. And they have to design the program so it doesn't use so much system resources that it makes your computer useless for anything else. It's not an easy trick to pull off.
The Quest for the Perfect Anti-virus Program
A perfect virus scanner, therefore, would be one that catches all the known viruses and malware, updates frequently and automatically, catches all the new viruses and malware heuristically without a lot of false positives, and doesn't slow your machine down to a crawl in the process. That's a tall order.
I'm not sure there is such a thing as a "perfect" anti-virus program, but I can tell you this: The computer security products made by ESET are about as close to perfect as I've ever used, and they are the ONLY products I've used or recommended for the past several years. And an endorsement like that from me means something. Here's why.
I've been farting around with computers in some way or another since the late 1970's, and I've used pretty much every anti-virus program out there at some point or another. Some of them were simply ineffective and missed viruses, and others just slowed down my machines so much that I was ready to use them as boat anchors. ESET makes the only virus scanners I've used that have never missed a single virus on my machines, but that don't slow them to a crawl.
That's why ESET products are the only ones I use these days -- and are the only ones I recommend. I've tried them all, and nothing else even comes close. And because you're one of my site visitors, you can download and try ESET NOD32 Anti-virus free for 30 days just by clicking here.
Anti-virus programs are often bundled into comprehensive security programs that include firewalls, anti-spam, and some other features. The biggest problem with most of these programs is that they tend to sloooow your machine to a crawl. There's one exception, though, which I'll mention a few paragraph's down. Again, I've found ESET's software to be a happy exception. So if you want a full-featured computer-security solution that doesn't bog down your machine, I suggest you download the ESET Smart Security Trial.