Personally, I wouldn’t recommend anyone to use Windows. The reason is simple, by using Windows you as a consumer put yourself at the mercy of a corporation with a history of shady behaviour.
Nevertheless, I understand that adopting an alternative operating system is not an excercise that’s mentally or physically feasible for many people. The fact is most computer users are lazy. We tend to pick the path of least resistance; and this means sticking with the OS that we’re used to or that comes preinstalled with our computers.
However, there’s absolutely no excuse in making your computer insecure and potentially becoming a launchpad for attacks on other computers connected onto the Internet. Securing your Windows computer is not a difficult thing to do. In fact, it’s not only easy, but it can be done for free!
Essentially, there are five bases you need to cover to use Windows securely and I’m going to highlight them here.
1. Always keep Windows up to date
The operating system is the heart of your computer’s software framework. It is a software that enabled other software to run on your computer. Without the operating system, in this case Windows, your computer is merely an unusable electronic device.
Microsoft regularly publishes security updates and service packs for all supported operating systems. It is essential that you apply these updates whenever you’re prompted to do so.
It may not be convenient, but believe me, there’s no escaping the operating system updating cycle regardless of what operating system you use. Flaws will be discovered and the operating system vendor will fix it.
Some flaws could compromise your computer and make it vulnerable to third party attacks via the Internet as well as third party software.
So the next time Windows prompt you of the availability of an update, install it immediately.
2. Ensure Internet accessable software are updated
It’s not only Windows vulnerabilities that can compromise your computer. Sometimes the culprit can be Internet software such as the browser, email client, or even online chat programs that can be the doorway for hackers to compromise your system.
With the advent of RSS, keeping yourself up to date with the latest news and updates regarding your software is made much more easier. Some better designed software even have internal update notification features built in.
As a user you should always keep yourself updated with news regarding the software you use. Failure to do so might cause you more trouble than its worth.
3. Enable and understand the Windows firewall
In the early days of Windows, firewalls are only available as third party applications. If your Internet connection device doesn’t come with built-in firewall functions, then you have no choice but to enable the Windows firewall.
Bear in mind that the built in Windows firewall provides basic protection against external attacks. Meaning, it’s sufficiently powerful to protect against DOS attacks. It will also prompt you to allow or deny a listening service (software that waits for external connections).
However, it doesn’t have the capability to allow or deny applications that make outgoing connections to the Internet. To put it simply, if you’re infected with a spyware or trojan that “calls home” to a third party host, the Windows firewall won’t block or even prompt you of this activity.
Mind you that this is the behaviour of the Windows firewall that comes with Windows XP. I have absolutely no idea how the version that comes with Windows Vista works.
4. Have anti-virus software installed and kept up to date
A fundamental flaw of Windows is that it is probably the most vulnerable operating system when it comes to virus attacks. Probably it is due to its popularity. Probably it’s a design flaw. Regardless, as a Windows user you need to have a decent anti-virus software installed.
Having an anti-virus software installed is not enough though. It is very important to keep it up to date with the latest virus definition files. New viruses are discovered every day and with the ever increasing global Internet availability, virus proliferation is becoming faster and far reaching than ever before.
There’s quite a number of free anti-virus software available, so lack of money should not be an excuse for not having one installed. Some free anti-virus that I know of are:
5. Install a decent anti-spyware application
Also another problem that is more severe on the Windows platform than any other operating systems; spyware. Sometimes a so-called free software is not as free as it seems. It may not cost you a single cent, but it could cost you precious computing resources by storing and transmitting private information, irritate you to no end with popup advertisements, or worse still, dial to some foreign premium call services number.
Spyware can easily waste you tons of time and money. Therefore, precautions should be taken even before it attacks your system. From my experience, getting rid of spyware could potentially be a very troublesome and time consuming process. Therefore it’s advised that you have anti-spyware software installed before you even need it.
My anti-spyware application of choice is Spybot Search & Destroy. It’s free, constantly updated and powerful enough to detect and get rid of most spyware. I gladly recommend it to friends and clients.
Having the right computing mindset
As you can see from the points above, using a computer nowadays is more than powering it on, running your favourite software and shutting it down when you’re done with it. Using a computer is also about responsibility and commitment.
In this Internet age an improperly maintained computer would not only negatively affect its users but also other Internet users. A vulnerable computer could be used as a launchpad to attack other computers.
Just like children are taught about the responsibilities of keeping a pet, they should also be taught about responsible computing. The computer is no longer a household electronic device, it’s your household’s gateway to the world and vice versa.
Therefore excercise discretion about who you give the keys to.