Beyond anti-virus: 7 simple ways to shore up your computer's security
Whether you’re using Windows Defender or a paid-for security solution such as Norton or Trend Micro, anti-virus is just the beginning when it comes to keeping your computer safe. Common sense and basic security software can go a long way, but here are a few easy ways to help keep your computer happy for the entire year.
Run Should I Remove It
Should I Remove It is a simple tool that dispenses advice on whether you should remove any of the programs you've got installed on your Windows PC. Given the large amount of bloatware many PC manufacturers include out of the box, running Should I Remove It is one of the very first things you should you do when you get a new computer.
In addition to providing on-demand information about the software you've got installed, you can also let Should I Remove It run in the background to keep an eye out for unwanted programs such as those annoying toolbars certain apps try to sneak in.
Set Flash as click-to-play
Adobe's Flash Player is easily one of the most exploitable bits of software on the market, yet the majority of us still keep it on our computers. While uninstalling Flash is the best option when it comes to protecting yourself from the vulnerabilities that seem to pop up on a regular basis, preventing Flash-based online content from running automatically is your second best option.
In Chrome, you can do this by opening the Settings menu, selecting "Show Advance Settings", clicking on "Content Settings", then scrolling down to "Plugins". Select "Let me choose when to run plugin content", and make sure there's nothing set up under "manage exceptions".
In Firefox, you'll want to go to navigate to "about:addons" using the address bar. Find Flash, click on the dropdown menu and choose "Ask to activate".
In Edge, simply open up Settings, click "View Advanced Settings", and toggle "Use Adobe Flash Player" to off.
In Safari, open up Preferences, and go to the "Security" tab. Click the "Website Settings" box next to internet-plugins, and then choose Flash. Set the dropdown menu next to "when visiting other websites" to "ask".
Use an ad-blocker
While many online advertisements are harmless, cyber criminals have a nasty habit of purchasing these for themselves, and using them to display malicious content. Some "malvertising" can require a user to actually click on a link or install a program, but more sophisticated attackers can create malicious ads that trigger automatically.
Ad-blocking extensions mitigate much of this risk. AdBlock Plus is one of the more popular options, but I've found myself using uBlock Origin as of late. AdBlock Plus has a few more features, but uBlock Origin is leaner and less resource intensive option.
If you trust a website and want to support it, you can always whitelist it with your ad-blocker of choice.
Keep on top of updates
Installing software updates in a timely manner is one of the most effective ways to stay one step ahead when it comes to cyber security. While you might not need that new feature in the latest version of Chrome, many software updates contain security-related fixes.
For the most part, it's important to update everything, not just Windows or OS X. Update your web browser, update iTunes, update anything on your computer that connects to the internet in anyway.
If you've got a device that's not a Mac or a Surface, your device manufacturer will also likely issue their updates through their own updater software. Be sure to install these too.
Dial up User Account Control
User Account Control is that annoying prompt Windows throws up whenever you try to install software. While it might be frustrating to have to tell Microsoft that you actually do want to install that program, it's actually an invaluable tool that can help keep malware at bay.
At its most stringent, User Account Control will alert you whenever an application tries to install software or make changes to your computer. You'll get the prompt a little more often than normal, but you'll know everything that's going on with your computer.
On Windows 10, you can find User Account Control settings by opening Settings, and searching for "UAC". Click on "change user account control settings" and set it to "always notify".
Install HTTPS Everywhere
For an extra bit of privacy and security online, you can install an extension called HTTPS Everywhere. The extension forces websites to use HTTPS rather than HTTP, provided they support it. As a result, HTTPS Everywhere will encrypt your connections to many major websites, which in turn prevents cyber criminals from intercepting communications between your computer and a website.
Install Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit
Last but not least, Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit is a light-weight program designed to protect computers against zero-day exploits that won't be detected by anti-virus programs (a zero-day is an exploit that has never been seen before, and as such, can't be picked up by software).
While a premium version of Anti-Exploit is available for AUD$34 per year, it’s most important feature - protection for your web browser - is available for free. The paid version will also help protect Office, PDF readers, and media players, but if you're mostly using your computer for web browsing, the free version should meet your needs.