Whether you have a Mac or a Windows PC, there are some basic steps you can take to reduce the risk and personal impact of a malware infection. This advise is especially impactful when you have just purchased a new Mac or Windows system. There are several steps that you can take to protect your new investment and more importantly your information. In the following detail, I mainly focus on Windows as that’s the main technology that my non-IT type friends ask about.
Basically what you should be doing is:
- Ensure that a hardware firewall/router is in between the internet and the PC (I’ll just call it a firewall from now on)
- Use a recognized brand name like Linksys, avoid the no-name generics as they often have bad defaults and don’t implement the stateful-packet-inspection that you want to filter out most of the cruft on the Internet from reaching your PC
- Ensure all default passwords on the firewall and PC have been changed
- When you initially turn on the power to your PC and to your firewall, do NOT have them connected to your cable or DSL modem initially. Do the setup of your firewall and PC first in order to ensure malware doesn’t have a chance to get at your shiny new PC before you’ve turned on the needed protection
- Point a browser to your firewall (likely 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1) and change the default administrator password. This is very important, as some malware will seek out your firewall and try to use the manufacturer default password to change things like your DNS server settings – inserting the bad guys in between you and the rest of the Internet (eg. forcing your traffic to them first before it goes to your bank)
- All normal accounts used for day-to-day business on the computer should NOT have administrator privilege (see my post on running without admin privileges)
- On Windows XP, Vista (and I think 7), the default “user” that accesses the PC has full administrative privilege, that enables software installation and configuration changes. This is very dangerous, as malware that you come in contact with from infected emails or websites use this privilege to install their spyware, keyloggers, backdoors and other nasty stuff on your PC – without your explicit permission
- Set a password for your Administrator account
- Create a new user right away, before you setup your email, music, photos, documents, etc; ensure that new user is NOT a Computer Administrator
- Always login with this non-Administrator username for your day-to-day use; only use the Computer Administrator username for software installation and configuration changes.
- Never surf the Internet with an account that has administrative privilege
- If this is a common PC for a business, ensure employees accounts are individually assigned (if practical). Ensure those employee accounts are not administrators (unless there is a need and a high degree of trust)
- Run a good commercial anti-virus program with annual software support (or a subscription)
- There are some good free AV packages (AVG, Clamwin, Avast) .. Google them for the links
- Sophos makes a good Mac AV package .. yes, Macs are vulnerable to malware as well; it’s just not as prevalent
- Finally ensure regular (daily) backups are being run to protect your business, financial, customer information from loss if there is a problem with the PC
- For setup of your wireless access point (if you have one .. sometimes it’s built into the router/firewall)
- Chose wireless encryption of at least WPA or WPA2 .. never use WEP or no encryption
- There is no significant increase in security by obscuring your network name (SSID)
- Don’t use any personally identifiable information in your network name
If you are unsure of how to do any of these steps, get one of your computer knowledgeable friends to help you. Of course if you are purchasing a new system right now, I’d strongly recommend you check out Apple’s Mac products. They’re not immune to malware, but the architecture and core are by design much less vulnerable to the types of malware that plague Windows.