In light of recent hack attacks this is a great opportunity to raise awareness on internet security. Back when we were a forum we had a thread titled “PC Necessities for FREE (or almost)!” that is still valid.
As such, we’re taking the opportunity to share the information from there with you now. Please note it covers more than internet security programs (such as firewalls, anti-virus, and anti-spyware).
Many people think owning/using a computer means spending a lot of money for it to be useful and safe. But, that isn’t so. These days there are many computer necessities available for users at little or no cost. This article shall mention such necessities, by category, providing links and costs plus analysis for each product.
If you’re online spyware is bound to infiltrate your system. There is a plethora of anti-spyware programs for sale but why pay when good free programs are available?
Our first recommended program is Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware SE. The NSA, here in America, uses an advance version to safeguard their PCs. Ad-Aware SE can be downloaded for FREE. There is an enhanced version costing $26.96 but the free Ad-Aware is more than suitable for most users.
The next recommended program is Spybot Search & Destroy. This completely open-source project is FREE. The author accepts donations via Paypal on the website. However, you don’t need to pay to use the program. In addition, Spybot S&D includes TeaTimer, which is a component that actively monitors your computer for attempted spyware intrusions.
Lastly, Microsoft has a free beta of a new anti-spyware program named Windows AntiSpyware/Defender. Microsoft bought Giant AntiSpyware who previously ran this as a paid utility. Now, owners of genuine/legal copies of Microsoft Windows can download the software to use on their machines. It will easily scan for spyware every day and has other user configurable options. Please note that using this program can cause a file called MSpNGs.exe to run in the background that may use up all your system resources.
We strongly recommend that users actively use at least 2 anti-spyware programs. I personally employ all three of the above and am as spyware free as possible. But, if you don’t have Windows as an OS or if you don’t trust Microsoft then we suggest you use Ad-Aware SE and Spybot Search & Destroy.
As more and more people are going online and having high speed internet connections they are becoming suceptible to virus attacks. Computer users will recognize big names McAfee Antivirus and Symantec’s Norton Antivirus. Most new computers come with either of those installed with a short licence. If you don’t own McAfee or Norton or don’t want to spend the money for either, each usually retails for $60+ USD with yearly license fees for updates, there is another road to travel.
Grisoft provides AVG Anti-Virus, which is a FREE and solid program. It is downloadable for FREE. A professional version, with some extra bells and whistles, is available for $33.30 and comes with virus definition updates for 2 years with tech support. The free version is 100% free including virus definition updates for life. It is, however, only licensed for home use. Businesses and organizations will have to purchase the professional version.
I personally use both AVG Anti-Virus and Norton Systemworks in my home network. I keep Systemworks on my gateway computers and AVG on all others. We strongly recommend that you make the switch to AVG.
Most cable routers have firewall hardware installed that is more than suitable to prevent malicious individuals from finding your computer. But, if you’re a dial-up user or if you regularly use unfamiliar networks, such as with a notebook computer, a software firewall is just the thing.
Windows XP users have the benefit of Windows Firewall with Service Pack 2. It isn’t the best out there but it is better than nothing and it is FREE. If you haven’t downloaded Service Pack 2 please run Windows Update. Alternatively, you can go to http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com to run Windows Update.
Another option is Zone Labs’ Zone Alarm. Zone Alarm is a free software firewall that works quite well. It is available on the net and doesn’t cost a dime.
If you have a router with firewall in it stick with that. Otherwise, we recommend Zone Labs’ Zone Alarm software firewall.
When someone says office in relation to computers people naturally think of Microsoft Office. But, Microsoft Office can cost around $300 USD and that’s expensive. Most users are better off with a free alternative.
Instead of paying all that money for a retail office suite we recommend Open Office. Open Office, which first came to our attention via TechTV, is 100% free. It is available online and has almost all of the features that Microsoft Office does. It, unfortunately, doesn’t have all the fonts, the database, document filters, and clip art that Microsoft and other paid office suites come with. But, that is more than made up by being open source and having an included PDF creator. In addition, it is a good choice for users with Windows 98+ unlike its modern Microsoft counterparts who are Windows 2000/XP compatible only.
Nowadays many documents on the web are in PDF format, readable with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader (please go to http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html to download it for free). But, how can you create PDF files without spending the $299 USD free for Adobe’s PDF creator? We provide two suitable options below.
Easy PDF Creator from PDFDesk Informatique is free for a 14-day trial and $139 to use for good. It is available from http://www.pdfdesk.com/download.html and is less costly than its Adobe counterpart to boot. It is simple and will install as a printer on your system thereby allowing any application to output to PDF format. It can PW protect files with 128-bit encryption and also can create files in batches.
WinPDF, also available from PDFDesk Informatique, is 100% free for life. It is available from http://www.pdfdesk.com/winpdf.html and is a suitable piece of freeware. Unlike its retail counterpart it cannot create files in batches, lacks an uninstaller, and cannot convert existing PDF files to HTML. But, it is a basic converter for the average user who doesn’t wish to make the financial commitment that Adobe or Easy PDF Creator requires.
We recommend using WinPDF due to its freeware status and also as it fits the bill for the average user.
The overwhelming majority of computer users across the globe use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to browse the web. Unfortunately, IE is the number one target of viruses, worms, spyware, and other malicious attacks. In addition the United States government has deemed IE to be unsafe for home users. What is a person to do if IE isn’t safe yet you have to surf the web somehow?
Mozilla’s Firefox is the best, new, and completely open source web browser around. It is giving IE a run for its money with an ever increasing, albeit still small, market share. Firefox is available from www.getfirefox.com and is incredible on so many levels. It has the Google Toolbar embedded, automatically, it is impervious to most pop-up ads, is safe from the plethora of IE targeted problems and is completely customizable. Firefox has an ever growing collection of themes/skins and plug-ins you can use to make it look however you want and do whatever you want. Want to get your local weather forecast while surfing the net? Want to check stock quotes without going to a website? Want to surf the web with a hip looking browser? Firefox does all this and much more. If you do, however, run into a problem the Mozilla message boards are a free and friendly place to receive useful support from other users.
It is safe to say that we wholly recommend you make the switch to Firefox if you haven’t already. If you’re aleady using Firefox we applaud you. I personally have moved away from IE in all aspects excepting Windows Update, which Microsoft has refused to work in Firefox.
For Anti-spyware use Lavasoft’s Ad-aware SE and Spybot S&D. Stick with AVG Anti-Virus. For a Firewall use the one that came inside your router or Zone Alarm. Be sure to use Open Office for your clerical needs. Firefox is the best web browser out there. If you need to make PDFs then use WinPDF.