Locking Down Your PC

by Brett Schultz

Students should care about protecting their school work as much as getting it done.

Many people surf the web, check email, shop online, and even manage their finances from their computers.

However, spending so much time on computers comes with a cost: hackers can exploit our sensitive data with Trojans and malware designed with many different purposes. As the most recent transformation of NSA tools into a global ransomware attack shows, online life can be a dangerous one.

The bottom line being that anytime someone uses a computer, there are some security risks. But there are ways users can protect themselves, and they can do so without having to spend any money.

Enabling Windows Firewall and Defender

Most people don’t know that there is security software already on their Windows machine out of the box called Firewall and Defender.

Windows Firewall filters outgoing and incoming data, and Windows Defender helps shield the PC from any malicious software that may be downloaded or run on it. Both are free and come with every edition of Windows. By default, they are enabled, but you should check to see if they are enabled by searching for the software programs in your Windows start menu search bar, opening them, and reviewing their settings.

They are not hard to use, but keep in mind Microsoft does not specialize in antivirus and Windows Defender may not always be up to date.

While users can schedule scans and updates, Microsoft may not have the latest threats covered in their software updates, which gives hackers a small window of time to target a user’s machine before Microsoft discovers them.

Downloading Anti-Virus Guard (AVG)

To get timely virus protection, a user can download any number of free antivirus programs.

While there are many to choose from, AVG offers the best value as free antivirus software. Other products offer free trials, but the license expires and will eventually cost money or stop protecting a user’s computer, possibly without the user’s knowledge.

AVG is effective, and program minimizes the use of system resources, meaning using the protection won’t bog down a machine and reduce performance. Because AVG is a security software developer only, the company specializes in ways that Microsoft can’t. AVG is up to date with the latest mutations of malicious software and viruses that hackers circulate on the Internet.

While users will get some of the best antivirus protection they can get with AVG, there is a downfall: no automatic scans or updates for the free version. While AVG will stop and prompt users to kill any viruses it detects entering the machine, the program will not update its directory with the newest antivirus information the company discovers until the user clicks the software update button. This means that users should periodically (once a week is best) open the software and click update. While it is updating, users should run a whole system scan. During the scan, AVG will start will reduce performance, but the user can set the scan to go very slowly and use minimal system resources if the machine is in use.

Users can download the free AVG software right here:

http://download.cnet.com/AVG-AntiVirus-Free/3001-2239_4-10320142.html

Just be sure to click the downloaded executable file to install the software. Many people click download, but that only downloads the installer software. You must run the installer software to install the antivirus! There is a video on this page that will play as the file downloads and explains how to install it. Be sure to click “custom install” to disable the free 30-day trial. If you miss this step, don’t worry: AVG will move to the free version at the end of the trial.

Downloading Malwarebytes Anti-Malware

Malwarebytes software catches malicious software and not just viruses. If users want to go the extra step and really secure their computers, they should add a malware detector like Malwarebytes. Again, this is free, so scans and updates must be performed manually.

This program is simple to use: all the user must do is open it and click scan. The scan will update itself, then start the actual scanning process and go through everything on the computer, not just what is stored on the drives. The detector will look at current processes and what is being temporarily stored on the RAM, an amazing level of precision for free software.

Users can download Malwarebytes Anti-Malware here:

https://www.malwarebytes.com/mwb-download/thankyou/

When Viruses Prohibit Access to the Internet, Get RKill

For users who already have a serious virus or malware problem on their computers, RKilll should help. Even users who don’t notice a problem will benefit from running this software.

RKill is a super small yet powerful program that kills any process that prevents users from running antivirus and/or antimalware. Most viruses tend to lock down the computer and block access to browsers so that they can stick around on the machine while collecting data and spreading.

RKill not only terminates bad software, but it removes bad Windows Registry entries and stops and restarts Windows File Explorer so that the new changes may take effect, enabling the user to run antivirus and start the cleanup process.

Just a tip: RKill is command line based, but there is no need for most users to run any commands. Just open it and give it some time. It will let you know when it is done.

Users can download R-Kill here:

http://download.cnet.com/RKill/3001-8022_4-75221743.html?hasJs=n

Don’t Wanna Cry

True, the average–impecunious–college student isn’t likely the primary target of ransomware attacks like May’s WannaCry. But the average student’s computer might be caught up in such software’s spread—and that computer is certainly in danger of being infected by more run-of-the-mill attacks.

So vigilance is important.

Just by using these pieces of software, users can save themselves a lot of trouble in the future. Starting the scans not only cleans a computer of current viruses, but also protects computers from future viruses that may slip through undetected. Whether you are a power user or a PC novice, you should take steps to make sure your machine is protected.

As always, if you have any questions, please contact fsj@racc.edu and include “technology” in the subject line.