For those of us who download applications, programs, extensions, or really anything off the Internet in great frequency, what's the best way to keep a computer completely protected from external threats? I'm talking about locking down your system tighter than a Supermax prison--not impacting your ability to carry out your everyday tasks, rather, making sure that you're protected from attack at your PC's primary entry points.
That's exactly what I'll be exploring in this week's freeware roundup: The five best free applications for keeping your computer as secure as can be. If you aren't running some combination of these freeware and open-source apps, well, you only have yourself to blame if your system gets infected with something unpleasant!
Here's the big one. Microsoft Security Essentials is a comprehensive antivirus and antimalware scanner that's one of the top free offerings you can get for your system. But don't take my word for it. According to ZDNet, Microsoft Security Essentials has showed a 98-percent detection rate when tested across 545,000 different examples of viruses, trojan horses, and other forms of malware, as well as a 90-percent detection rate when tested against 14,222 different pieces of adware and spyware. It's also the only free application to receive "good" ratings for malware removal and leftover removal from testing conducted by AV-Comparatives.
This easy-to-use anti-spyware application offers complete protection against more than 1,000,000 different threats. It's frequently updated and is often cited as a stronger system guard than Spybot Search & Destroy, an ol' favorite amongst the geekier tech crowds. The program's only downside is that it's split into a freeware and paid-for version. The former delivers detection and removal, but you have to manually run the application each time you want to scan your system. In contrast, the paid-for version contains both real-time scanning elements and automatic, scheduled scanning--an ideal solution for the forgetful downloading enthusiast.
You don't have to be a little unsure about an executable you just downloaded in order to make use of the features offered by Sandboxie. As its name alludes, this virtualization program is an excellent tool for separating any downloaded program from the core contents of your system until you've had time to assess whether the application is both useful and malware-free. Unlike a traditional virtualized environment, which typically runs as a preinstalled operating system inside your existing OS, Sandboxie allows you to virtualize at the application level--you can prevent applications from making changes to your computer as soon as you're done installing the program. It's a great way to save time and effort, yet still achieve the same benefits as a virtualized operating system.
A Web browser? Yep. Remember, this roundup focuses on security, not usability. While it's certainly true that Mozilla Firefox offers a better browsing experience if you factor in all the fun customizations, add-ons, and themes, Google Chrome is simply a more secure Web browser. That's because it operates as a mini-Sandboxie of sorts, virtualizing the browsing experience--per tab--overtop your operating system. Although an exploit might be able to affect Google Chrome in some fashion, there's no way that it would be able to spill over into your operating system unless a secondary virus or piece of malware was able to disrupt the sandboxing process. I covered this process in this past week's Murphy's Law column, so feel free to hit that up if you'd like a little more information about Google Chrome's comprehensive security!
Were there a free application that symbolized the classic line from the 1986 movie Aliens, "nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure," that would be Ultimate Boot CD. Although this Windows-based Live CD doesn't actually destroy your system's contents in a firey blaze, it is an extremely helpful tool for running virus and malware cleanup on a system that's passed the point of no return. You'll need to have a copy of Windows XP on hand in order to create the Live CD, but given the comprehensive list of system tools included with the package, it might just be worth it to pick up a copy of this older OS from the bargain bin of your favorite retailer if you don't otherwise own it. If you can't fix your operating system after a healthy dose of healing from the Ultimate Boot CD, you might want to save your critical files to an alternate storage location and wipe/reinstall you operating system from scratch.
If you've already infected your system with a bunch of unnecessary third-party software tools--like a ton of annoying Web browser toolbars or secondary programs installed alongside software you've downloaded--then grab Revo Uninstaller. Don't just jump over to the Add/Remove Programs option in the Windows Control Panel. In fact, don't even run said applications' built-in uninstallation executables. Revo Uninstaller will do this all for you and, as a special bonus, it'll scan your system for any lingering files or registry entries that the programs' uninstallation routines didn't catch. For the ultimate in crap-free uninstalling, Revo Uninstaller is the best application you could possibly have on-hand... or on a portable USB key!