Ask Leo: How do I keep my computer safe on the internet?

November 08, 2010 by in leo notenboom


By Leo Notenboom

Virii & Spyware & Worms … oh my!

“Internet Safety” seems like an oxymoron.

It seems like not a day goes by where we don’t hear about some new kind of
threat aimed at wreaking havoc across machines connected to the internet. While
products other than Microsoft’s are certainly vulnerable, anti-Microsoft
sentiment coupled with the massive installed base make Microsoft products an irresistible target for hackers and “script kiddies”.

Here are some things you can, and should, do to stay safe.

    Use a Firewall

    A firewall is a piece of software or
    hardware that sits between your computer and the internet and only allows
    certain types of things to cross the wall. For example, a firewall may allow
    checking email and browsing the web, but disallow things that are commonly not
    as useful such as RPC or “Remote Procedure Calls”. In fact, it’s
    vulnerabilities in RPC that allowed for one of the more recent worms to
    propagate. (If you’re using a phone to dial-in to the internet, a firewall is
    not as important, though it doesn’t hurt to have one. A software firewall may
    be your only option, though.)


  • What’s a firewall, and how do
    I set one up?
  • Do
    I need a firewall, and if so, what kind?
  • So do I need SP2’s Windows
    Firewall or not?

  • Virus Scan

    Sometimes, typically
    via email, virii are able to cross the wall and end up on your computer anyway.
    A virus scanner will locate and remove them from your hard disk. A real
    virus scanner will notice them as they arrive, even before they hit
    the disk, but at the cost of slowing down your machine a little.
    Important: because new virii are arriving every day, it’s
    important to keep your virus definitions up-to-date. Be sure to enable the
    scanning software’s automatic-update feature and have it do so every


  • Viruses: How do I keep
    myself safe from Viruses?
  • I run
    Anti-Virus software why do I still sometimes get infected?
  • When do I actually need to run a virus scan?.

  • Kill Spyware

    Spyware is similar
    to virii in that they arrive unexpected and unannounced and proceed to do
    something undesired. Normally spyware is relatively benign from a safety
    perspective, but it can violate your privacy by tracking the web sites you
    visit, or add “features” to your system that you didn’t ask for. The worst
    offenders are spyware that hijack normal functions for themselves. For example,
    some like to redirect your web searches to other sites to try and sell you
    something. Of course some spyware is so poorly written that it might as well
    be a virus, given how unstable it can make your system. The good news
    is that, like virus scanners, there are spyware scanners that will locate and
    remove the offending software.


  • Spyware: How do I remove and
    avoid spyware?
  • What’s
    the best Pop-Up Blocker? Anti-Virus Software? Anti-Spyware Software?
  • Is Microsoft’s
    new Anti-Spyware program any good?

  • Article continued here

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    Leo Notenboom

    About Leo Notenboom

    Leo A. Notenboom is the owner of Puget Sound Software, LLC and the Leo in Ask Leo!. Leo has been in the personal computer and software industry since 1979, as a software engineer, a manager of software engineers, and as a consultant. In 1983 Leo joined what was then a medium sized local company called Microsoft and spent the next 18 years in a wide variety of groups working on a wide variety of software. If you're running Microsoft Windows, if you've used a Microsoft development tool or Microsoft Money, or if you've ever purchased a ticket through Expedia, there's a good chance you've been touched by some of his work. And of course, since 2003, Leo has been answering your tech questions on Ask Leo!

3 Responses to Ask Leo: How do I keep my computer safe on the internet?

  1. Wonder which one I should use says:

    I have used AVG free for a long time. But, I knew it just wasn’t enough. It only found 4 files with broken signatures. So, last week I did a massive malware purge. Over the course of 3 or 4 days. I used AVG, Avast, Antivir, Malwarebytes, Kaspersky and almost used Mycleanpc until I saw it was a registry cleaner.

    But, just because it may have found more virus’s doesn’t necessarily mean they were actually virus’s. I wish companies would really abstain from the heuristic analysis part of it. The ability to generate false positives. That science just hasn’t been perfected yet.

    I would pay for a malware scanner provided it was definitely worth it. If it found all the virus’s all these scanners did (and that they were actually virus’s) There is now a virus scanner called HitManPro which takes a difference approach. It is a cloud based scanner and designed specifically not to interfere with others you may have on your system. Panda has one too.

    I read an article in Maximum PC or the like, in which they tested several scanners. Panda was the one that shredded pretty much everything they threw at it. Though, I see Spyware Doctor brags a lot about the awards they’ve won. I haven’t tried that though.

  2. Larry F says:

    Not a bad article, but it’s not very comprehensive.

    For example, it does not mention the fact that browser helper programs like Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash Player, and Oracle’s Java should also be updated regularly because there’s malware in the wild that take advantage of vulnerabilities in those programs.

    It also doesn’t mention that an awful lot of malware distribution depends on user’s bad browsing and email habits to spread. Examples of that would be opening email attachments the recipient did not expect were coming, or clicking on links seeded on Facebook Walls that lead to malware. Antivirus programs usually have email scanners, and they should be configured and enabled to do the job. Some, like AVG 9 and AVG 2011, also have toolbars that contain the front end for link scanners to help you spot poisoned links on web pages, or poisoned web sites. Those should also be enabled and used.

    For most of my browsing, I use Mozilla Firefox with an add-on called “NoScript”. NoScript disallows running any script on a web page unless I give it permission. That can be a pain in the neck sometimes, but it does mean I have very few fears of drive-by malware infections.

  3. James says:

    I have recently subscribed to Prevx, and it caught a virus that made it through Yahoo email, McAffee, and some other antivirus antimalware programs I use. I have been very satisfied with that type of protection. What do you think? I still use Windows XP firewall. My computer runs reasonably fast with all of this installed.

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