Page last updated at 09:55 GMT, Friday, 13 March 2009

Click Essentials: PC Protection


Prevention is the best way to protect a machine from being attacked by malicious software.

Here is our essential guide to help you secure your computer in three simple steps:

1. Enable operating system updates

Many of our hijacked computers were originally infected by simply visiting a website that had already been hacked by bad guys.

This is called a drive-by download, and it works by loading malware onto your machine where it exploits bugs in your operating system (OS) and web browser.

Windows is the most popular OS and it is the most vulnerable to these kinds of attacks.

You can minimise the chance of this happening by simply allowing your OS to automatically update itself. That fixes those bugs before they can be exploited.

You also need to make sure this function is switched on - if OS updates are switched off, a computer will not benefit from these security patches.



2. Switch on the firewall

If you do get infected, your next line of protection is your firewall. So switch it on.

A firewall acts as a kind of digital drawbridge, guarding against the web's more unpleasant elements.

It monitors inbound and outbound Net traffic on a computer, searching and blocking behaviour that looks malicious.

Windows XP, Vista and Mac OS-X all have built-in firewalls, but the Mac and earlier versions of XP do not switch them on by default. You have to do that yourself.

In addition, there are many tried and tested third-party firewalls available - some commercial, and some free and lesser-known, but still perfectly adequate.

Windows users, if you decide to plump for a third-party firewall, you may need to switch the Microsoft firewall off. Often the MS firewall will conflict with third-party packages.

3. Use anti-virus protection

Both of the above should be used in conjunction with good anti-virus software and anti-spyware. Again available in both paid-for and free variants. Many of the free options have fewer and more basic features than the full-price alternatives.

Another common way for hackers to infect computers is by disguising malware as something else. Users looking for free pirated versions of software are a popular target.

They may think they are getting something for nothing, and they are, but just not what they expected.

If your PC has already been infected, anti-malware software can track down and eliminate the infection.

But ensure only one anti-virus application is installed at a time.

Like the firewall, running multiple anti-virus suites can cause software conflicts and create major computer performance issues.

It can be several days before anti-virus companies catch up with oubreaks of new infection, by which time it may have already wreaked havoc on your system.

With PC security, prevention is most definitely better than cure.

Our step-by-step guide on how to protect your PC:


Step 1
1. Click the Start button
2. Then click Settings
3. Then click Control Panel
This guide is for Windows XP – other versions of Windows may vary slightly.

Step 2
Double-click the icon which is illustrated in the magnified image above.
The layout on your machine might be different – just look for the shield icon.

Step 3
In this window you can see what security measures are switched ON or OFF. Ideally you need all of them to be switched ON. The inset screen shows the Security Center in Windows Vista.

Step 4
1. Under Managed security settings(1) click Windows Firewall.
A firewall can warn you if a computer program is trying to run or connect to the internet. It will also give you the chance to deny that program permission, if you did not ask it to do anything.

Step 5
2. In the window that pops up, the best setting to select is On (recommended).
3. Then click OK to switch on the firewall.

Step 6
Automatic Updates
1. Under Managed security settings¹ click Automatic Updates.
Microsoft regularly updates your Windows operating system to fix bugs and vulnerabilities which let infections in. It is very important to allow these updates to happen automatically.

Step 7
Automatic Updates
2. In the window that pops up, choose Automatic (recommended), and specify when and how often you want Windows to check for updates. If you are unsure, choose every day and pick a time.
3. Click Apply.
4. Click OK.
Step 8
Virus Protection
Anti-virus software can scan your computer and check for dangerous programs that infect your machine. This is software you will need to get from a third party - some versions are free and others paid-for. Microsoft has advice under Virus Protection on just some of the brands available.
Step 9
When all protection measures are active, the bars in the Security Center will turn green.

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