Keep your PC secure in 2009

December 3, 2008

Viruses, spyware, rootkits, hackers–a fresh machine can be
susceptible to the most insidious of plots. We’ve devised a list of
essential and free security programs to protect the honor of your
computer and ensure that your sanity will last longer than your
resolutions.

We round up the best free firewall, antivirus app, spyware remover,Web surfing adviser, parental controls, and encryption software foryour Windows PC.

Free Firewall

Comodo Firewall Pro
has eradicated most of its resource-hogging ways and gives users what
they want: a flexible yet simple firewall that’s great for beginners
but also provides a smorgasbord of information and plenty of options
for advanced users.

From the category tabs of Summary,
Firewall, Defense +, and Miscellaneous to more specific headings, most
security terms come linked to relevant security issues so users can
drill down to learn more about how the firewall is performing. Although
the app rears its head often when you first fire it up, once it learns
your behavior, it becomes virtually unnoticeable.

Personal Free Antivirus

Avira AntiVir Personal Free Antivirus
does double-duty, protecting against spyware and viruses alike. For
users who want backups or want to have their antivirus and antispyware
separate, we’ve recommended alternatives, but the trend is to find the
two formerly separate features rolled into one program. AntiVir’s scans
are flexible, allowing the user to check all hard drives, choose a
preloaded scan–for rootkits, for example–or customize. After testing
on several machines, no viruses turned up, although several malicious
hidden files did rear their heads. The heuristic scan can be turned on
or off completely or partially, with three different intensity levels.

The quarantine offers extensive support, too, although the definition file
updater can be sluggish. Still, combining effective antimalware and
antivirus tools into one is a freeware luxury, and AntiVir has been
rated one of the most effective defense tools by third-party testers.

Malwarebytes


Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware
is a surprisingly effective freeware antimalware tool. It’s a
relatively speedy malware remover, with the quick scan mode taking
about 10 minutes. The heuristics engine proved on multiple computers
during empirical testing that it was capable of determining the
difference between false positives and dangerous apps.

The app
has some nice features rolled in, too. It supports multiple drive
scanning, context menu options including a scan-on-demand for
individual files, and the FileAssassin option under the More Tools
section for removing locked files. The interface is simple, but
pleasant-looking and well-organized. Tabs live just below the oversized
logo, with few options per tab to keep the clutter to a minimum. The
installation process was fast enough, but interestingly offered up the
well-kept change log and an instant definition file update. You can pay
for an upgrade to some snazzier features, but the free version is a
worthwhile, responsive malware remover.

McAfee SiteAdvisor For Firefox and Internet Explorer

The SiteAdvisor plug-in for Firefox and Internet Explorer warns you about covert spyware and browser-hijack attempts as you visit a site.

It operates as an unobtrusive signal in your browser’s interface, turning
green if the site is safe, yellow if it’s suspect, and red if it senses
threats. The same system applies to search results, inserting a colored
icon next to each link. Clicking on one provides threat diagnostics,
including links to suspect sites, spam counts, and dangerous downloads.
In our tests, SiteAdvisor turned out accurate and reliable results, and
though it doesn’t have a wide array of features, we urge all users to
try this extension.

KidZui

KidZuiseems
like a kiddified browser with social networking rolled in.Children can find their favorite YouTube videos, rate content usingtags, and share opinions with other KidZui friends, all from a colorfulinterface with big buttons and labels. KidZui is anything but astandard kids’ browser, though, and what makes it so unique isprecisely why it’s such a safe tool for children.

KidZui is aclosed system, not filter-driven, so all content that’s available has been approved by editors into a whitelist database. Kids can explore
the Internet by using the search/URI bar, or search by a left-nav
sidebar that’s organized by topics including science, movies and TV,
games, sports, and animals. Parental registration is required before
your child can create an online identity, and there’s a paid upgrade
available to provide more options for both kids and their parents. A
KidZui extension for Firefox turns Mozilla’s browser into a KidZui experience, too.

TrueCrypt

The ultimate freeware encryption program, TrueCrypt is loaded with powerful features that those concerned with protecting their data from thievery should want–and have.

It offers 11 algorithms for encrypting your private files in a
password-protected volume. You can store your encrypted data in files
(containers) or partitions (devices). TrueCrypt works hard to offer
powerful data protection, recommending complex passwords, explaining
the benefits of hidden volumes, and erasing telltale signs of the
encryption process, including mouse movements and keystrokes. Though
the interface may not be immediately intuitive, its powerful,
on-the-fly encryption for no cost still earns the freeware security
tool a top

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