13 Free PC Security Hacks to Build Your Online Protection
We know that there are plenty of users out there who believe that staying safe online is expensive, time-consuming and maybe even useless, because who’d ever target them, regular ol’ folks? But the fact of the matter is that this type of approach is what gets users into trouble when their computers get infected and they swear they didn’t know how it happened.
The response to a survey on cyber crime taken amongst adults in the United States in August 2014 shows that 41% of Americans believe that their data is somewhat secure online, which goes to show that they are aware of some dangers, but are not entirely sure what those dangers are and what they can do about them.
There are lot of myths going around about Internet security, and we took the time to debunk them, so we recommend reading the dedicated material along with the current guide for a more accurate picture of your online protection.
The truth is that cyber security doesn’t have to be expensive when it comes to individual protection, and today we plan to show you the way to free PC security through the guide below.
FREE COMPUTER SECURITY SETUP GUIDE
1. Keep your system protected with a free antivirus solution
There are plenty of options when it comes to free antivirus software, which leaves no excuse for going online unprotected. If you care about your financial information, your confidential data and the files on your laptop or stored in the cloud, you need antivirus.
The latest versions of antivirus won’t slow your computer down, and they won’t bug you with incessant popups, so you can choose one of the top 9 free AV solutions out there and get the fundamental layer of protection for your system.
2. Shield your computer for Zero Day attacks by patching your software automatically
A Zero Day (also called a Zero Hour attack or Day Zero attack) attack or threat is a type of attack that exploits a previously unknown vulnerability in an application or operating system that developers have not had time to address and patch. This type of vulnerability is so new that programmers building that application or OS have not had the time to address it and fix it.
Zero Day attacks can be vicious, resulting in financial loss and confidential information leaks, so the solution is to keep your software updated at all times. But, like me, it’s possible that you’ve ignored an update pop-up more than once. That’s why an automatic software patching tool is ideal to help you stay protected.
For example, Heimdal Free silently patches your system, updating your crucial applications, such as Java, Acrobat Reader, Acrobat Flash, Quicktime, Vlc Player, Windows media player and many others. And all that without ever interrupting your work flow or your time off. You can also try using the Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit kit, which includes some features you may find very useful.
3. Enhance your online protection by encrypting your data
Encryption is no longer a precaution reserved for IT professionals, but a necessary safeguard for every Internet user. By encrypting your data you can make sure that cyber criminals can’t use your confidential information, even if they manage to break into your system.
You can encrypt not only files (stored both locally, and in the cloud), but also passwords, online communication and Internet traffic. In fact, just last week we put together a list of 9 free encryption software tools you can use. And if you have a bit more time on your hands, there’s an even bigger list you can use for inspiration.
4. Reduce spam and dangers associated with it by using spam filters and IP blocking tools
In 2014, the proportion of spam in email flows was about 60%, according to a study by Symantec, and that’s a constant problem we’ve all been dealing with for years and years. The same study shows that the estimated Global Spam Volume per Day is 28 billion emails, and 1 in every 965 of these emails contains a phishing attempt.
And it’s not just email spam anymore: “over 90% of social network users have experienced social spam in some form”, according to Wikipedia, and this is because of a simple reason: “many people use the same password on multiple networks, meaning criminals have been able to spam multiple accounts thanks to a single hack”, observes the aforementioned Symantec study.
5. Filter potentially harmful web locations with DNS lookup tools
DNS might be a bit of a trickier concept to grasp for the regular user, but this simple explanation can come in very handy. If you don’t know why you should use a DNS lookup tool, then you should know that cyber criminals use a method called DNS poisoning, which consists of an attack that “exploits vulnerabilities in the domain name system (DNS) to divert Internet traffic away from legitimate servers and towards fake ones.”
Without dedicated protection, you can end up on a hacker-controlled domain and have your data stolen, because the legitimate address you thought you were visiting was routed to a different destination. Of course there are free DNS lookup tools as well, that will automatically check and filter malicious IP addresses, so you can have some extra safety while browsing the web.
6. Increase your privacy and keep cyber criminals from sniffing your private data by using a VPN
Another free application you should have installed on your computer is a VPN. Shortly, a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a network created by using the Internet public infrastructure to connect to a private network. This type of connection uses encryption and other security methods to ensure that a user’s online identity and activity are protected. By using a VPN, your Internet traffic and data will be encrypted, preventing cyber criminals from sniffing the data exchange.
If you want to keep safe from hackers or even nation states, and if you use public Wi-fi spots frequently, then you should definitely have a VPN installed. Our top recommendation is CyberGhost VPN, but you can find plenty more options here.
7. Fend off cyber attacks by employing User Account Control software
Many cyber attacks rely on the fact that people use the administrator account on their devices on a regular basis. That means that any executable malicious file can access administrator privileges on that device and penetrate to the deepest layers of your hardware and software infrastructure. Does that sound like bad news? Well, it definitely is!
But there’s something you can do about it as well. By employing User Account Control tools, you can limit a software application’s user privileges, and only give it more access in case you are entirely sure it is clean and has no malicious intent. This is a great way to keep malware from compromising your operating system, but, as you may know by now, it’s not a foolproof method.
8. Monitor and filter your Internet traffic with a good firewall solution
A firewall is a network security system that controls the incoming and outgoing network traffic based on an applied rule set, which means that you can apply a set of rules to protect you from potentially dangerous web locations.
Even if your OS includes a firewall, it’s always a good idea to use a 3rd party application, with dedicated intelligence and capabilities. There’s even a very recent list of free firewall solutions you can use to choose the right one for your system. And if you want a more specific solution as well, check out this list of USB firewall software.
9. Protect your software, as well as your hardware with USB immunizers
Speaking of USB protection, this is an important vulnerability you should take into account. If autorun is still enabled for the USB sticks you plug into your computer, and you’re using the administrator account on your PC, that only spells “trouble”.
The remedy here is to use a USB immunizer tool which can disables autorun-related threats before they access your system. A solution such as Bitdefender’s USB immunizer will also watch constantly for “newly inserted USB storage devices and immunize them on the fly”, thus keeping you malware-free!
10. Upgrade your password to safety-enhancing levels
We’ve all used the same password for more than one account at least once in our lives, so there’s no shame in admitting it. But there could be trouble your way if you don’t take advantage of the great free tools that can help you create strong passwords and manage them safely.
Cyber criminals love it when you use the same simple password over and over again: if you get it rights, they can gain control over your accounts, and it’ll be almost impossible stopping them if they do so.
Even Edward Snowden, in his interview with John Oliver, mentioned how easy it is for a computer algorithm to break an 8-characters passwords. It would take less than a minute!
That’s why we keep recommending you use a strong password generator coupled with a password management system. And if you add a virtual keyboard to these two solutions, and maybe even anti-keylogger solution, then you really mean business!
11. Keep safe from malvertising by using a good adblocker
You probably think that, if you don’t visit any websites that could be classified as dangerous, you’ll be safe from virus infections. Except you’re not. At all.
Malvertising is a technique used by cyber criminals in which they inject malicious code or malware into legitimate advertising networks and websites. So you could be visiting BBC.com or CNN.com and still get a nasty malware infection.
This way, cyber criminals can get past firewalls and your antivirus. And malvertising is more widespread than you may think, because it doesn’t compromise the entire website: all it needs is an infected banner. You don’t even have to click the banner to get infected!
The interesting thing about infections delivered through malvertising is that it does not require any user action (like clicking) to compromise the system and it does not exploit any vulnerabilities on the website or the server it is hosted from… infections delivered through malvertising silently travel through Web page advertisements.
Malvertising can redirect you to a compromised website, it can serve pop-up ads for deceptive downloads, it can trigger drive-by downloads, it can have hidden iframes that spread malware, and it can be present in many other forms, which is why we recommend installing an adblocker for your safety. You have a wide variety of free adblockers and pop-up blockers you can choose from, but remember that it’s also important to keep your browser up to date and the critical software on your computer updated as well (see #2 item of the list for more details).
12. Back-up your data!
A simple back-up can save you from more trouble you can imagine. Although it may not be the preemptive measure you first think of, backing-up your data is crucial. And we’re not only talking about your files. It’s a great idea to back-up your email, your browser preferences and any other service or app that you consider important.
It’s up to you if you prefer an external drive for your back-up or if you’d rather keep a copy of your data in the cloud, and you can choose from plenty of free back-up software options.
13. Get educated about online dangers and the methods cyber criminals use
Keeping up with security risks is difficult even for some professionals involved in the field, and we know you don’t have the time to keep up with everything that’s going on. This is the reason why we put together this list of free computer security tools that you can use to strengthen your defenses from cyber criminals’ actions.
But there’s one essential security feature that is free and you don’t need to download: yourself! If you take a bit of your time to understand what you should look out for when going online and assimilate some basic cyber security concepts, then you can become one of your best assets when it comes to your protection.
We recommend reading about the top online scams used by cyber criminals to acquire confidential information, and even assessing your current level of cyber security, so you can know exactly what more you can do about it.
Knowing how malware acts, how cyber criminals use social engineering, where to click and where not to click, what to do about a potential threat and how to choose the security products that suit your needs are all important assets when it comes to your protection. Keeping an eye on this blog helps as well, because we try to simplify what’s going on in the information security world so you can get relevant, actionable tips for your online safety.
If you have some time and the willingness to protect your data, your memories and other things that are important for you and that you’ve stored online, there are plenty of options to choose from. Of course, choosing a paid version of a security product will always give you access to much more advanced and effective security features, but there’s a lot you can do with no money at all too.
Our advice, no matter which alternative you choose, is to take meaningful steps for your online protection. Be safe!