Must have software for Microsoft Windows XP?
Dave, I am getting a new computer with WinXP?. Do I need Zone Alarm? SpyBot?? AdAware?? A-squared? Spyware Blaster? Help! I don't want to be one of those statistics you read about on the 'net...
This is a great question! I asked my research team to offer their own answers and present them here. Lots and lots of excellent information:
What every new computer needs, but the computer salesman did not tell you.
The first thing to do with a new computer is UPDATE. Run Windows Update from the Start Menu. Install Service Pack 2, if it is not already installed. Hopefully, you have a broadband connection as the downloads are going to take quite a while on a dial up connection.
Now that your computer is up to snuff, let's keep it that way. There are four mandatory programs. Three are free. Download and install the following free programs:
• Zone Alarm.
After installing Zone Alarm, make sure that the Windows Firewall is disabled:
Right click on Local Area Network, select properties, right click on your method of connecting to the internet, select properties, select advanced tab, click on the settings button, select off, and finally tell the system ok.
Finally, obtain and install a good anti virus program. Any of the following three will work well (I personally use AVG Anti-Virus on all of my PCs):
The new Microsoft anti virus, while still in Beta, seems to work well, and is worth a try. It is free and if your budget is such that the purchase of a commercial anti virus program is out of the question the Microsoft program is a good alternative.
This has required a lot of work for you to complete the above tasks. There is one final step so that all your hard work does not go to waste. UPDATE, UPDATE, UPDATE. Run the programs regularly, weekly is best, if you even only do a moderate amount of surfing. Prevention is the key to a healthy computer. A virus can make you sicker than any flu bug your body has caught.
Don't forget to keep your browser up to date. If you use Microsoft's Internet Explorer, then it will be kept up to date for you with the auto update feature of SP2. If you opt to use a different browser, stick to Firefox and keep it up to date.
I would consider Microsoft's AntiSpyware package a must have, along with at least one other piece of antispyware software. The Microsoft AntiSpyware package is unique in that it monitors what is happening on your machine, helping to prevent infections, while most every other available package only detects infection after the fact.
Prevention is an important aspect to consider. It's a lot easier to prevent spyware infection than it is to clean up the mess it leaves behind. Consider an alternate browser like Mozilla Firefox (getfirefox.com) or Opera (opera.com), rather than using Internet Explorer. And no browser is immune from security issues, so make sure which ever one you choose, you keep it up to date.
Antivirus software is, of course, also crucial in the overall protection of your machine. Install a reputable antivirus package, and make sure it's always up to date. For home PC's, I have had good luck with AVG antivirus (grisoft) and it is available free for personal use.
A firewall is also essential, especially if you aren't behind a broadband router or similar device that provides your first line of defense. The firewall built into Windows XP Service Pack 2 is good at blocking incoming connections and decent for controlling outbound access, but some of the commercial options provide better outbound control.
Protection against spyware and ad-ware is also essential. Lavasoft Ad-Aware Personal is excellent for periodic checks. Spybod Search and Destroy can be set to run whenever the computer is operational, and can alert you when software packages - both legitimate and illegitimate attempt to make changes to your registry files, and that can help prevent hijackings and similar attacks.
To add to the good advice above: I have been reviewing general PC security in relation to making our counseling clinics HIPAA compliant, and have come up with four basic things that are necessary to retain a relatively secure computer:
1) up-to-date antivirus software. Both AVG (noted above) and Avast! (avast.com) test as well as most commercial products and are free for personal use; in some cases they are free for nonprofit organization use (i.e., my university) as well.
2) Firewall software. As noted above, the firewall in SP2 is adequate for basic needs and completely invisible, a plus for those who can't or don't want to mess with learning a firewall. Other excellent products are zonealarm basic (you don't necessarily need the pro version) and Kerio personal firewall (you don't need the paid version). Some more recent versions of zonealarm have had stability issues, making Kerio an excellent choice for those who are less computer-savvy. In the words of another article I have read recently (but I forget the source), Tiny Personal Firewall is almost the best out there, but is a complete monster to get configured. As this author noted, use it if you are a security professional or a masochist ONLY.
3) Antispyware software. It is good to have a combination of at least two spyware programs. Microsoft and AdAware? are the choices of the day. Spybot Search and Destroy has been a staple for a few years, but has become less effective recently and only works best with Internet Explorer (whose concerns are noted above). I have used Microsoft Antispyware for about a week now, and have had good results with it, considering the esoteric mixture of things that I have running on my machine.
There is a separate category of software, typified by the Winpatrol program (winpatrol.com) which works in the background to recognize any and all system changes, adding a layer of protection against both spyware and trojan attacks.
4) Update! Update! Update! Individuals who do not keep their important software patched regularly are the worst security risks. This includes not only windows, but programs like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Office or OpenOffice, anything that is used regularly.
I would also install software to see what actually starts when your computer does. A lot of anti-spyware programs still miss those sneaky ones that slip through. I have used CodeStuff Starter for a while and find it easy to use, and reliable. You can stop certain programs from starting and also see the current running processes. It's free too from http://members.lycos.co.uk/codestuff/.
There are also some tools to prevent against spyware infection to begin with. Here are couple I like: Blockfile and SBdownload.
Thanks to -M. Trimble, Tommy Martin, James Foster, Jeff, John Carson, and Chris Buechler for their great answers to this fundamental Windows question. Nonetheless, we probably missed one or two. What do you consider must-have software for your Windows PC?
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