Guarding your PC from Net hazards

It's 2004: Computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and spyware applications are flooding the world's networks. You're nuts to use a PC without an antivirus tool, but that alone isn't enough. Antivirus programs can't detect a new virus until it is already on the loose. That leaves your system vulnerable for the hours or even days it takes your antivirus vendor to deliver an update. Fortunately, you can help stop the nastiest viruses in their tracks -- even before anyone knows about them.

Patch that system, private! It's time to bust out the old drill-sergeant voice, because anyone who doesn't follow this simple instruction is going to have to drop and give me 50 knuckle push-ups. Okay, everyone repeat after me, "Unpatched systems are the devil's spawn."

Enable Automatic Updates: In Windows XP, right-click My Computer, choose Properties, Automatic Updates, and make sure that 'Keep my computer up to date' is checked. (See this month's Internet Tips for more on Automatic Updates.) Once a month (preferably just after Microsoft announces its latest security fixes), visit windowsupdate.microsoft.com, let the site scan your system, and then download anything labeled 'Critical'. Every month, no exceptions -- got it?

Turn off scripting behaviors in Internet Explorer: Many worms and viruses spread through Web page scripts (commands in the page that push the worm out to anyone who opens it in IE). Other browsers don't have this problem, but if you can't or simply won't change to Opera, Mozilla, or another browser, you must alter IE's scripting settings to block the threat.

In IE, click Tools, Internet Options, Security. Choose the Earth icon under 'Select a Web content zone', and click Custom Level. The settings in the dialog have three options: Disable, Enable, and Prompt. Enabling everything is asking for trouble, but being prompted every time a script or ActiveX control wants to run will drive you batty. In any event, disable 'Download unsigned ActiveX controls', 'Initialize and script ActiveX controls not marked as safe', 'Active scripting', and 'Scripting of Java applets'. Set 'Java permissions' to High Safety.

With scripts disabled, many of your favorite Web sites may not open. Also, your company intranet or Web mail service may require scripting. If so, add the URLs for these sites and services to IE's Trusted Sites list. Open IE and click Tools, Internet Options, Security. Select the Trusted Sites icon, click Sites, and then enter the URLs one at a time. Uncheck Require server verification (https:) for all sites in this zone, and click OK.

Control what starts up with Windows: Many worms place a reference to themselves in a portion of the Windows Registry that defines what programs start up with Windows. The TeaTimer applet that comes bundled with Spybot Search & Destroy 1.3 and with WinPatrol can control what gets added to this list. TeaTimer asks you to verify any program that seeks to be added to that list. Spybot and WinPatrol are free, so why not use both?

Use a software and a hardware firewall: If you have broadband Internet service -- even if you have Zone Labs' free ZoneAlarm or some other software firewall active on your PC -- you can't be too safe. Belkin, D-Link, Linksys, and other vendors sell inexpensive broadband gateways that bounce back worm attacks that otherwise would reach your computer.

Proactive malware prevention with Qwik-Fix: In early tests, PivX Solutions Inc.'s Qwik-Fix Pro was successful in preventing malicious scripted Web pages from forcing Internet Explorer to load worms or spyware. The tool provides stopgap protection so that your system doesn't get infected while you're trying to download patches. Qwik-Fix Pro is free for noncommercial use, and businesses should be able to buy the corporate version by the time you read this.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Andrew Brandt

PC World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?