Last update :- March 29th, 2012

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Security

With over 15K of the startups database entries given an "X" category because they're some form of virus, trojan, worm, spyware, rogue or other malware it shows the importance of having a good security software. You can use free versions but personally, I think security software is one of those products that I don't mind paying for - because of the peace of mind it gives you.

I personally wouldn't recommend renewing a subscription for a product that's more than 2 years old. If you like the software you're using, then buy the latest version as the core technologies incorporated are likely to have significantly improved. For example, I once had to help a friend who'd just renewed his subscription to Norton Internet Security 2006 - thinking it would provide adequate protection. Somehow, the PC became infected with a trojan that downloaded and installed a version of the WinAntiVirus rogue. After re-building his system I installed a current suite and scanned the old files I'd retained on a USB hard disk and it detected and deleted ~40 infected files.

Apart from buying quality security software, my top personal tips for protecting your computer, files and data are as follows:

Meike Verburgh, Assistant Director of Research @ Malwarebytes and a respected security professional also kindly offered her top 3 security tips:

If you use the default installation options when installing sofware (especially freeware) you'll often find you have one or more browser toolbars installed. If this is the case you're also advised to read Mieke's blog article on Unwanted Toolbars.

Anti-malware

Malware (short for malicious software) is a broad term covering viruses, trojans, backdoors, worms, spyware, adware, rogues and other software intent on disrupting computer operation, gaining unauthorized access to computer systems and stealing information. If one piece of malware infects your system then it can open the door to many others. There are thousands of viruses out there and they're evolving on a daily basis to avoid detection - with those creating anti-malware software always trying to keep one step ahead.

Rogues

Apart from viruses, rogue security software is probably one of the biggest problems at the moment. These programs use malware and other tactics to deceive or mislead a user into paying for fake, simulated or inadequate security software that only increases the problem. If you're security software isn't one of the better ones you may have seen adverts or pop-ups appear when vesting a web-site that warns you that you're computer may be infected and offer to carry out a free scan - which when installed will falsely inform you that you have a number of infected files and that you need their software to remove them. Alternatively, you may find installers for rogues embedded within or attached to other software you download from less reputable sites.

An indication of how much of a problem this is can be found on this abridged list of removal guides and rogue lists:

Firewall

The simplest introduction I can use is from Wikipedia - "A firewall is a device or set of devices designed to permit or deny network transmissions based upon a set of rules and is frequently used to protect networks from unauthorized access while permitting legitimate communications to pass." Essentially, a firewall is used to protect a personal computer or computer network from hackers or organizations who want to access data or use it as part or a botnet.

Windows 7/Vista/XP include a firewall by default but this offers limited configuration so you're advised to use at least a good software firewall. You can also use a hardware firewall and many routers and Cable/DSL modems now incorporate them. You can find a discussion on the differences between hardware and software firewalls here.

Privacy

With many transactions now taking place online including purchases (from the likes of eBay and Amazon) and banking it's important to protect your privacy and prevent your card or account details falling into the wrong hands. Your browsing habits and private information can be tracked and stolen through cookies and unannounced browser downloads and you might even join millions of identity theft victims. Regardless of how risky your online behavior is or what you use your computer for, your actions and personal information are recorded and can easily be discovered by others unless you protect against it.

One example that has already been mentioned above it rogue software as if you hand over your card or account details by buying it they could pass it on to others. Another common example seen today is phishing - where, for example, you could receive an email that appears to be from a valid source such as your bank that asks you to login to confirm your details. Alternatively, you may be taken to a site that mimics the real one and tricks you into providing your login details.

Software

When it comes to selecting your security software, in each case below I recommend you start with reputable review sites such as PCMag, PCWorld, C|Net or TopTenReviews.

Commercial:

You could find and use a product specifically for each of the problems discussed above but most of the top software companies operating in this field offer comprehensive suites covering all of them. A selection of the best commercial security suites available is listed below for your consideration in alphabetical order. Note - these are not my recommendations but are the top 5 from the TopTenREVIEWS comparison:

Free:

If you're not willing to or cannot afford to pay for a commercial suite, consider trying one of the following products (in alphabetical order) or search for reviews online and make your own mind up. They may not include all of the protection you need so you may need to find additional components:

Most ISPs (Internet Service Providers) will also include free security software as part of their broadband services - examples include:

Scanners:

A number of companies also provide free online scanners for scanning individual or groups of files - examples include:

Useful virus information search links are provided by Symantec, Sophos, Trend Micro, CA, McAfee, ThreatExpert & Microsoft.

Personally Used

The products I personally use and therefore recommend are Kaspersky Internet Security (by Kaspersky Lab ZAO) and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware PRO (by Malwarebytes Corporation). Most commercial packages will insist upon removing competitor products during installation but are happy to co-operate if you install them afterwards and configure them to work with each other. In the case of Kaspersky and Malwarebytes read this forum post. It doesn't hurt to have different technologies and detection methods working alongside each other.

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