How to Secure Your PCs on a Budget

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Windows provides some built-in security features and what’s missing can usually be downloaded for free so don’t let a tight budget prevent you from protecting your computers, family, and business.

Here I’ll share how to frugally combat the chief security threats and concerns, so you can save your hard-earned money for more gadgets and gizmos.

Use free internet security programs - Your greatest security expense over time is likely on an Internet security suite like McAfee or Norton for protection against viruses, spyware, and other malware. Did you know there are totally free and good security suites out there waiting for you to download? It’s true.

Here are a couple free anti-malware solutions to consider:

Avast! Antivirus: Free for personal use on home computers. Includes virus, spyware, and rootkit protection. It also provides auto sandboxing, which automatically runs unknown files in an isolated environment so no damage can be made. The boot-time scanner can be enabled to scan before Windows loads. The Web, script, mail, network, P2P shield/IM shields detect incoming malware before your computer even sees it.

Comodo Internet Security: Free for both business and home users. Includes virus, spyware, rootkit, bot, and firewall protection. The Defense+ feature protects system files and the Auto Sandbox Technology runs untrusted files in an isolated environment. It also has an auto website filtering solution using their DNS service to block known dangerous sites.

AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition: Free for only personal use on home computers. Includes virus, spyware, and rootkit protection. It also offers protection from social networking threats and a link scanner to display safety information on sites before you visit them.

Microsoft Security Essentials: Free for personal/home use and free for businesses on up to 10 PCs. Includes protection for viruses, spyware, rootkits, and other malware. The network inspection system helps detects malware infections coming from network connections before they hit your computer.

You might be skeptical, thinking nothing is "free," that there has to be a catch. Well, most companies that offer free Internet security software have a paid version with more features and protection. That’s where they make money. However, most consumers and small businesses can do without these premium features or supplement with other free solutions.

Though you’ll find most free security solutions lack a firewall but not to worry the free Windows Firewall built into XP and newer versions is adequate for most systems. Most solutions also lack a SPAM filter. If your email provider or email client doesn’t offer an adequate filter, consider free solutions, such as Comodo AntiSpam, Spam Pal, or SpamBytes.

Encrypt your drives with DiskCryptor -Windows (and all other mainstream operating systems) store your files in clear text by default. This means if your computer is stolen or left alone, a snooper could potentially access your personal documents, system files, and stored passwords. A boot disc could even be used to bypass the operating system and your password.

To prevent snoopers from accessing your files, you can encrypt them. It’s best to use a solution that encrypts entire drives, including the Windows or system partition, rather than just select folders and files. Microsoft offers BitLocker Drive Encryption but is only available with the Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Windows Vista and 7.

If you don’t have the proper Windows Vista or 7 edition, or are using Windows XP, you can use a third-party utility. DiskCryptor is a free open source solution and doesn’t even require you to format the drive and start from scratch. However, before encrypting your Windows partition, you should create a recovery disc in case Windows become unbootable and you need to decrypt the partition. See a previous DiskCryptor tutorial of mine for more information.

Use OpenDNS for content filtering - Internet content filters can help protect children from inappropriate sites, block employees from unproductive sites, and block known dangerous sites that contain malware or are phishing. There are many commercial products and services out there for filtering and parental controls, but OpenDNS offers their basic filtering service for free. The great thing about OpenDNS is that the filtering can apply to the entire network, even protecting gadgets like the iPad or gaming consoles.

After signing up for an OpenDNS account, you’d configure your network router or individual computers/devices with their DNS servers to bypass those provided by your Internet service provider. Then you can configure your filtering settings by blocking site categories.

Enable Windows parental controls - If content filtering isn’t enough and you’d like more control over the computer usage of your children or employees, consider using Windows Parental Controls in Windows Vista or Windows 7. You can specify usage times, limit program and game access, and control communication via Windows Live Hotmail, Messenger, and Spaces. Access the settings for Windows Parental Controls via the Control Panel.

Use Comodo EasyVPN for secure remote access - Virtual private networks (VPNs) let you securely connect to remote networks via the Internet to access files and services. They can also help secure your local traffic when using untrusted networks, such as Wi-Fi hotspots. Windows includes a native VPN server and client, but only serves as a very basic solution.

Comodo EasyVPN is a free VPN solution that’s simple to install and use while offering more functionality than Windows. You install it on all the computers that you want to join the VPN. You create a VPN network and join each computer to it. Then you can securely access and share files and printers, chat with the built-in IM client, or use remote desktop.


Remember the basics

So far we've discussed free solutions to combating the major security concerns: malware, disk encryption, content filtering, parental controls, and VPN. However, there’s also a great deal you can do to increase your security without tools:


  • Don't open or run files from unknown people or sites.
  • Don't trust any anti-virus or infection alerts from pop-ups or programs other than from your installed Internet security utility.
  • Surf safely and stay away from questionable sites.
  • Be careful downloading from torrent files or peer-to-peer networks.
  • When installing free games or programs, carefully read the installation agreement and screens to see if it's installing other junk.

Eric Geier is the founder of NoWiresSecurity, which helps businesses easily protect their Wi-Fi networks with the Enterprise mode of WPA/WPA2 security. He is also a freelance tech writer. Become a Twitter follower or use the RSS feed to keep up with his writings. >

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