Thursday, December 25, 2008

Getting a new PC up and going - Thursday, Dec. 25, 2008

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Thursday, Dec. 25, 2008

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Getting a new PC up and going

QI was bad and took a peek inside Santa's bag. I'm getting a new laptop for Christmas. I use computers at work. But I've never had my own machine. So, I don't know how to prep a computer. Can you help me out? I'm particularly interested in securing the machine.
—John in Houston, listening on KTRH 740 AM

AYou are bad! I debated discarding your question because of your behavior. Instead, I'll let Santa deal with you next year.

Besides, I'm sure many of my readers need a little help setting up new machines. Whether still in the box or a handmedown, they've gotta be ready. The bad guys on the Internet will test them, guaranteed. Your machine could be compromised with malware in minutes.

How-to ThursdayFirst thing, make sure Windows Firewall is enabled. Windows Firewall isn't ideal. But it will do until you can download a better one.

Windows Firewall is turned on by default. I would double-check. Click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Windows Firewall. Then, click "Turn Windows Firewall on or off." If it's not on, enable it. Click OK.

If you have a wireless network, join it now. This is easy in Vista. Just click Start>>Connect to. Select your network and click Connect. Enter your network's security key when prompted.

The next step is to update Windows. Microsoft regularly patches holes in Windows. Even new machines won't have all the latest security patches.

Hackers are quick to exploit these security holes. They can use them to gain access to your data or infect your machine. You don't want to take any chances.

To update Windows, click Start>>All Programs>>Windows Update. Click Check for updates. Then click "View available updates." Select the updates to install by clicking the appropriate check boxes. Optional updates are just that. All others should be installed. Click Install after selecting them.

Installing updates can take a while, so be patient. You may also need to reboot your machine several times during the update process.

You'll want Windows Update to run automatically. This will help keep your machine protected. In the Windows Update box, click "Change settings." Select "Install updates automatically." Use the dropdown boxes to specify when the updates should be installed. Click OK.

At this point, you'll need antivirus and anti-spyware programs. If your computer is brand new, it probably came with antivirus. That program must be updated regularly, to avoid infection. It is not free. You'll get a trial period, perhaps 90 days. Then, if you want to keep it, you must buy a yearly subscription.

It's up to you. Personally, I prefer free, the price I really like! There are a number of free antivirus programs around.  I have links on my site. Select from Avast!, AVG and PC Tools. You should only use one antivirus program. Otherwise, you will likely encounter software conflicts.

Once you download the software, you'll need to update it. That way, you know you're protected against the latest threats. You should also schedule automatic updates in your antivirus software.

Next, you need to protect your computer from spyware and adware. Adware will feed you ads. Spyware will gather information about you and send it to a server. The server will return customized ads to your machine. You can live without that!

An anti-spyware program should protect you from both adware and spyware. You need at least two anti-spyware programs. Windows Defender is installed in Windows Vista. If you're using Windows XP, you can download and install it. Unlike antivirus programs, you won't encounter conflicts. I also like SpywareBlaster, which keeps malware from installing. Another good one is Ad-Aware. Use it to scan your system weekly. I let it run overnight, because it takes about two hours on my machine.

After you install your anti-spyware programs, update them. That way, you make sure you have the latest spyware definitions. Then, schedule regular updates.

There is probably some third-party software on your machine. And, you will undoubtedly install more. These can also provide a route into your machine for hackers. They know that people are wising up about security software and Windows updates. So, they're looking for new entries.

Security updates are regularly issued, but you may not get the word. So, I recommend that you install Secunia's Software Inspector.

It will examine the software on your machine. Then, it checks for uninstalled updates. It won't actually install the updates for you. You'll have to handle that yourself.

As I said, the Windows Firewall isn't intuitive. So, I recommend using a different one. If you are using 32-bit Windows, try ZoneAlarm. For 64-bit Windows, use Comodo Firewall. Both are free on my site.

Firewalls can conflict with each other. So, disable the Windows Firewall. Click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Windows Firewall. Select "Turn Windows Firewall on or off." Click Off and then OK.

You may not know if you have 32- or 64-bit Windows. To find out, click Start>>Control Panel and double-click System. Look at System type in the System section. This will tell you if you have 32- or 64-bit Windows.

I also recommend that you use Firefox instead of Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer has a much bigger market share. So, criminals are more apt to target it. Also, Internet Explorer is an integral part of Windows. That gives criminals a potential route into Windows. Firefox is just another program. It interfaces with Windows, but that's it. You can get this free browser on my site.

Let me take this opportunity to wish you a wonderful Christmas. I hope this day finds you healthy, and among friends and family. Please say a prayer for our men and women in the armed forces, especially those in harm's way.

Did you get what you wanted this Christmas? If not, you might want to check my son Ian's style. This year he was careful to ask about the health of Santa and the reindeer. And he noted that no matter what, he still believes in Santa.

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Tomorrow's Tip, in your e-mail: Clean up your old computer

Kim :)

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