4 Ways to Keep Your Windows PC Secure Without Paying for Third-Party Applications

Everyone’s freaked out, especially when big organizations start getting hacked in larger numbers every day. Companies are currently trying to profit from the fear people have by selling them security solutions that many of them don’t need. I’ve been anti-virus-free since 2002 and haven’t since had one single problem with a computer. However, there are many reasons some people who aren’t experts in assembly code need an anti-virus, and no one should deny them that. What I’m here to say is that you don’t really need to pay for applications made by anyone other than Microsoft to keep your PC free of issues.

Gone are the days you have to shell out money for computer security just to get rid of a couple of viruses every year. For its customers, Microsoft already offers an application called “Microsoft Security Essentials“. It doesn’t come as part of your Windows installation, but it’s been around, and it’s been free for a very long time. You can download it if you run Windows Vista (32 or 64 bit) or later.

Microsoft’s Security Essentials software keeps you updated with its own virus definitions and helps you combat even the most complex infections. An additional bonus to install MSE is that it doesn’t take a whole lot of resources from your computer, like other “bloatware” anti-virus solutions do.

Go ahead and download MSE from here.

It’s become a new fad lately to criticize every product Microsoft comes up with. While some of the complaints are well-merited, people often avoid using Windows Firewall because they hear it won’t really protect them. In reality, you can configure the firewall to do practically anything any other firewall can do. Contrary to many beliefs, Windows Firewall has the possibility to block outbound connections coming from a malicious application and monitor your network for anything else:

windows-firewall-advanced-outbount

It’s all about searching. You can get to this window by clicking “Advanced settings” when you reach Windows Firewall settings in the control panel. There’s no reason anyone shouldn’t be able to have a secure system running solely with Windows Firewall. Honestly, though, configuring outbound blocks doesn’t really help you stop anything. If malware is making outbound connections through your computer, you should really consider getting rid of the malware. Blocking the malware’s access to the Internet doesn’t really stop it from hogging your computer’s resources.

On the other hand, you should really keep an eye on inbound connections, which often try to hook onto your Internet line and exploit your computer’s vulnerabilities. We can speculate as much as we want, but having Windows Firewall running on your computer is no different than using iptables on Linux. Both are very secure and difficult to exploit.

Don’t listen to the conspiracy theorists saying that Microsoft Windows Update is an evil service that attempts to control your computer. While they might be right about the “control” part, it’s not like you’re going to suddenly see that you can’t go to a website because Microsoft is trying to “protect” you. The only thing that can happen is that they’ll pull an application from your system if it violates their policies, and that’s not going to happen until Windows 8 comes out. Still, they don’t need Windows Update to do that.

Downloading your updates is as important as running a firewall and keeping an up-to-date virus database. In fact, some malware has been rendered useless (like the “Conficker” virus) within a short while, when Microsoft patched up a vulnerability in Windows that it released as an update. People who refuse to use Windows Update might scoff at this, but it’s no laughing matter when you consider that many people also said that smoking isn’t bad for you.

It’s true that sometimes Windows Update might accidentally detect your Windows installation as counterfeit, but you can always ring up Microsoft on this. They’re always glad to assist you should anything go wrong on their end.

Are you annoyed by Windows Update forcing your computer to restart all the time? This isn’t an issue, as you can always configure it not to auto-restart after the update.

There’s a certain something that Microsoft should have never included in Windows: User Account Control. This intervention isn’t necessary in most systems, and certainly shouldn’t appear in home PCs. UAC basically is the pop-up that comes up whenever your computer wants to make sure you’re running an application on your own accord.  It looks something like this:

winsec-uac

To disable it, read this article, which teaches you how to disable it under the “Disabling UAC” section.

Aside from disabling UAC, you can keep your computer secure using prevention. Download only from familiar sources and don’t download suspicious files. It only requires common sense. If someone links to a “.exe” file and says it’s a picture, don’t approach it. Someone links you to a page where you must log in to a website you’re already logged into? Don’t go to that page! These are simple and common tactics of fooling people, but as you grow more aware of what’s going on, you might prevent a major system catastrophe.

If you have a file you want to download and don’t know whether to trust it or not, upload it to VirusTotal and let its results tell you about it. The website runs the file you just downloaded through a ton of different anti-virus solutions and lets you know what each of them picks up. A few false positives might appear, but if many of the anti-virus solutions say that it’s an infected file, you’d best steer clear from it.

Following all this advice will help you thwart most common attacks, and even some rare ones, without ever having to pay for third-party software. If you have more ideas, throw them at us in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!

8 comments

  1. Actually MSE used to be a decent free solution 3 months ago.  As the ever changing tech world goes though, this is no longer the case.  I recently had to format a new machine that was hit with a zero day rootkit attack.  This same attack attempted a different machine on the same network that was running a Managed Antivirus from GFI. Vipre to be exact.  So, we basically made a decision that we will no longer install a free antivirus on anyone’s machine.  The risk far outweighs the reward.  Follow us @brightflowtech:twitter  for more #techtips.

    • Many of these paid solutions also have vulnerabilities I have exploited with simple methods in the past through experimentation. If I wanted to, I could write up a program that takes advantage of such vulnerabilities in about an hour or so.

  2. Miguel.
    We deal with the general public on a daily basis.  To say that a huge propostion are so Techno-shy that they wouldn’t understand your article, is not an exageration.
    However, while everyone would like your promoted utopia (and costless solution), you are creating a false confidence which will only result in more people being infected by bots and zombies which will further hasten the vicious cycle of internet crime.
    If people don’t have your level of IT experience, don’t tell them not to pay a relatively mediocre amount to get someone to do it for them. 
    I’d like to see you break Trend or Norton or McAfee or Kaspersky…..

    • VirusTotal uses Trend, Norton, McAfee, AND Kaspersky. I suggested that for people who want to check their executable data. And, while I am able to code a quick virus (for educational purposes, of course) that will circumvent all of the antivirus applications you mentioned, I will need someone to take over my work, as I’m too swamped with things to do. There are already hundreds of viruses that can circumvent the majority of virus scanning solutions, which is why VirusTotal is a veritable solution, not to mention that it’s also free.

      I’m aware that the majority of the public isn’t technically literate, but the majority of people who can understand this article can also upload a file.

  3. Don’t tell people to disable UAC UNLESS they will just click yes without care. It’s still useful as if it poped up randomly or it’s a program that does a trivial task, then it’s probably not a good idea to just click yes.

    • UAC has a very small amount of added benefit compared to the possible detriment to security it has in someone clicking “Yes” by accident to something he/she shouldn’t have. It’s more an annoyance than it is a help. In the majority of installations, people are annoyed by all the prompts and just click “Next,” which is how companies manage to fool people into installing their toolbars while installing another program.

      The same happens with UAC. Because it’s annoying, a lot of people instinctively click “Yes” for the reward they get without consciously determining whether a program should or shouldn’t run on their computer. Chances are that if the person using the PC  doesn’t know what they’re doing, they’ll just go ahead and click “Yes” anyway, not knowing what the program actually does. More paranoid users often click “No” to programs that would otherwise have posed no harm to the computer and then wonder why one of their programs does not work anymore.

      UAC is very flawed in these senses, and therefore is superfluous for system integrity as long as other best practices are engaged, as suggested by this work.

  4. Thank you Miguel. My twin sister uses that combination at work. It seems to be taking care of the possible viruses they may encounter. Personally I did not find this article over complex. As a man with technical writing experience I tend to think about how something is written for the audience intended. Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you for the compliment, John. I hope you enjoy my other pieces on MTE. It’s quite fun to write here :)

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