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Safe Computing is a Choice

CautionTape_238x208Safety, Security, & Serendipity
There are many dangers inherent with computing on the internet. Viruses, worms, and spyware are the most omnipresent. It is a choice to engage in safe practices that protect you from these threats. Rather than approach this topic generically, I thought I would let you know specifically what setup and programs I use, and let you glean from it what you will.

The Hated One
Despite the fact that Windows Vista is a much-maligned operating system, the fact remains that it is more difficult to hack than Windows XP. In Vista there is a separation of regular processes and administrative-level processes that is lacking in Windows XP. I use Windows Vista and I won’t hesitate to use Windows 7 when it becomes available.

My favorite anti-virus program is AVG (there is a free version available for personal use). I have used many anti-virus programs in the past, but AVG has found the sweet-spot between performance and protection. Other anti-virus programs (ahem… McAfee & Norton) have reputations for being resource hogs. Beyond that, McAfee & Norton want to install a whole suite of add-on programs and I just don’t want them. AVG provides a simple, anti-virus-only software solution without all the rest of the garbage.

My choice here is Ad-Aware and they also have a free version for personal use. That isn’t to say Ad-Aware is any better than the dozens of other products out there. It’s just the one I use.

Safe Browsing
I use FireFox with NoScript for everyday browsing and I use Internet Explorer when I’m going to known sites (webmail, fedex.com, etc.).  What is NoScript? NoScript is an add-on to FireFox that disallows scripts from running automatically. Since a majority of vulnerabilities depend on scripting, the NoScript add-on makes your random internet browsing much, much safer. I would like to warn you, however, that it can make browsing some sites difficult. In those instances, you can always pop open IE to view that particular page/site and then go back to FireFox/NoScript when you are done.

Windows Updates
It goes without saying that you need to keep your version of Windows up-to-date by running Windows Updates. The sooner you install patches, the better off you are. The moment Microsoft releases a patch, hackers are reverse-engineering the patch with the goal of exploiting the vulnerability. In some instances, these exploits arrive within days of the patch being released. That is your window of safety… days.

The Finish
So there you have it. A little peek into my setup and practices. These combined safety measures are a lot like hiking through bear-country with pepper-spray. You are safer, but if you think they make you invincible, you are going to get eaten. Just as you wouldn’t slap a grizzly bear in the face, don’t download anything from a website that you don’t know and trust, otherwise you’re just asking for trouble.

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  1. September 3rd, 2009 at 16:55 | #1

    Great article, Brandon. Might I also suggest Secunia. They offer a free, Java-based scanning service that checks the programs and suggests updates for non-Windows components like Java, Flash, iTunes, OpenOffice.org. They provide instructions on how to fix the vulnerabilities and explanations of those vulnerabilities.

    Here’s a write-up that explains it in more detail.

    Here’s the direct link to their site.

  2. Brandon
    September 8th, 2009 at 12:48 | #2

    That’s a great tool/website. Thanks for the suggestion.

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