Monday, August 16, 2010

Even A Protected PC Can Still Get Infected

While browsing the headlines today I came across a pretty good article on PC World entitled "How Did My Protected PC Get Infected?". The article is a follow-up to PC World reader Bill Artman's question concerning how SUPERAntiSpyware could find three Trojans on what he felt was a very secure PC.

Being a moderator and forum member for several Tech support forums I can say I see these question pop-up all the time. Sadly many users are under the false assertion that a highly secured PC is invulnerable. There's no such thing as perfect protection. Even if you have the best firewall and antivirus software available, and keep it up to date, there will always be something out there that can and often does get through.

What you need to know

First and foremost you need to ask yourself how secure is my PC? Do you really have the best security software? Is it always up to date and fully patched? What do I personally do that might put my PC at risk?

If you can't give a good solid answer to any of those questions then you are probably not as secure as you think and you should take steps to remedy the situation. You should start by getting a good firewall, and by good I don't mean the one that comes embedded into Windows. You'll also want to add a good Antivirus program and at least one good malware/spyware scanner.


There are two types of firewalls, software based and hardware based. Hardware based firewalls are meant more for intrusion blocking from the internet side of things. They often provide very little resistance to traffic traveling from your PC out to the Internet. That is where software firewalls come in, they can be setup to limit or block almost all outbound traffic. An ideal setup will have both in place!

For software firewalls you want to get yourself a good third party application. Windows' own firewall doesn't protect as well as most of the free good, third-party apps. A good software based firewall should warn you if applications are trying to reach out to the net. These warnings are annoying but they can mean all the difference in the world. Comodo's free firewall is a good choice as is ZoneAlarm. Both offer great features and have worked well for me in the past.


There are tons of great AV programs out there so making a decision on which to use is always a tough one. Personally I like free, so I use AVG, Avast or Avira. Which one you choose is really going to be up to you. Personally I like to checkout the many reviews around the web before deciding and I generally end up using one or two different apps. (on different machines of course.) Whatever software you use, keep it up-to-date. It should do this itself automatically, but every so often, check it yourself. AV programs can be rendered useless in a matter of a few months if they don't update the new virus definitions.

Safer Browsing

It has always been my experience that the majority of infections come from bad browsing habits, risky behavior and or at the hands of the users themselves. Practicing good browsing habits will lessen the risk of infection greatly!

Be suspicious, question anything. Don't just click on a link in an email, don't just download that attachment or that Active X control. Question those pop-ups and update boxes. If you are on a third party site and it tells you to update to a new version of flash go directly to Adobe and get the latest version. Watch those Active X controls, several malware infections come from fake controls.

If a program you didn't install and launch tells you your PC is infected, assume it's scareware and it's about to infect your PC. Only download software from reputable sites. If you use torrents, a very risky behavior, make sure you scan the download and set your security settings to the highest level.

Instead of running under the Admin account, which you really shouldn't anyways, run under a limited or guest account with User Account Controls set to high.

Update, update, update! I can't say this enough. You need to keep your software updated to the latest version. Not just your operating system and browser but other software like your PDF viewer, flash and any media add-ons.

Browser Security

Internet Explorer is still one of the most widely used browsers on the planet and that popularity makes it one of the most targeted for attacks. If at all possible avoid using IE, switching over to a more secure browser is one of the best defenses against malware attacks. It might take some user a little getting use to but it is well worth it.

For high risk browsing I use Firefox coupled with ad-block, flashblock, and no-script. Those add-ons coupled with my security software means there will be virtually no chance something will get in without me noticing.


While this is not a protection plan it is possibly one of the most important steps to take to ensure piece of mind. A good back-up plan can save you hundreds of dollars in lost time not to mention the importance of saving those files like all your pictures, documents, movies, music ect. If by chance something does get in and wrecks havoc have all those important files backed up somewhere will be a lifesaver.


Following much of what was written will greatly reduce the risk most user face, but again aside from never getting on the web there is no such thing as 100% protection. Even the best laid plans can sometimes fail and when they do it can be disastrous. Just keep in mind if you have good security backed by a good back-up plan even if you do get infected you won't loose everything. Everyone I've ever dealt with that has been hit with a major infection could have saved themselves tons of time, headaches and heartache by simply backing up those precious memories.

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