These days bypassing and penetrating computer security systems is an incredibly profitable business. Some companies will pay programmers to focus on delivering unwanted advertising to computers through internet software, while others may take the more direct path to a victim’s wallet and simply infect their system and wait for the bank log in details or credit card number to show up in their inbox. Even when money isn’t on the line many hackers are trying to get their hands on less tangible things like World of Warcraft account usernames and passwords.
With all these predators lurking in the shadows of the internet, it is wise to make sure you have taken the appropriate steps to ensure that when you are online, you are not undefended. To this end, it is critical to understand the importance of internet security software while using the internet. Free internet software can be one of the primary attack vectors of unwanted software so it becomes even more important to focus on what you download and what internet security software you utilize.
This isn’t to say however that doing business online is inherently unsafe. Much as you would use an inside the waistband wallet in a country known for pickpockets, and don’t wave large wads of cash around in New York, there are ways you can make yourself significantly safer when doing business online.
The best internet security software will be ones that make you less enticing to potential cyber criminals and help prevent the attacks of the ones that assault your defenses regardless of your efforts. The first part of this is usually handled by a firewall. A firewall prevents incoming connections from accessing your networked resources, as well as preventing any programs on your computer from communicating with the internet. That second feature is especially critical in the situation of internet software infected with a Trojan horse virus, as those viruses will communicate outward from your computer to the internet to download new viruses with which to infect your machine further.
As for defending your computer from incoming attacks, when an attacker scans your computer for vulnerabilities the first thing he is looking for is open ports. A port is a number that relates to an interface to your computer, and can be in three states: Open, Closed, and “Stealthed”. An open port is one that is accepting traffic and when the attacker scans the computer he will be able to see this. Open ports allow an attacker more information than your computer than you would want them to know, such as what operating system you are running and other similar information. A closed port simply does not respond when probed, and doesn’t tell an attacker much, other than the port is explicitly closed. The best solution is a “stealthed” port. A stealthed port will not respond to an attacker with a status of open or closed. This leaves the attacker with absolutely no information about your system and they may waste time attacking a door that isn’t open in the first place.
Any good free internet software firewall will be able to perform both of these functions, and you should ensure that it does before installing any firewall. That being said, despite your best efforts at keeping attackers out of your computer you will also need to take into account what you are going to do should these defenses fail. This is generally where antivirus, anti spyware, and anti malware software comes into the equation.
A good free internet software antivirus program will not only help you remove infections that have already occurred (though this feature is a must-have), it will also work alongside your firewall to prevent those infections from happening in the first place. Several different methods of preventing infections include, but are by no means limited to, scanning all file open operations for malicious code, scanning memory for programs trying to alter the memory of other programs, scanning the Windows registry for changes not prompted by user actions, and scanning search results for known infected pages. Try to look for programs that do all of these things and you’ll have done a good job of securing your perimeter.
That being said, there is free internet software available specifically for removing infections, and in some cases it is necessary due to a particularly difficult infection or a virus that has disabled your usual protections.
Finally there are steps that can and should be taken for protecting your web browser itself. Internet Explorer has a few vulnerabilities that most other web browsers do not due to its deep integration into the operating system. This is not to say that it is bad, but it’s not a bad idea to use a different browser. What it all boils down to is: Be safe out there.