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The Internet can be a dangerous place with malware and viruses hiding in things you don’t even know your computer is downloading. Although the best way to prevent mishaps like this from happening is to practice safe browsing on trusted sites, there are a number of free tools you can use to make your computer much more secure.
I’ve broken this article into three sections; browsing, firewalls and viruses to organize my top picks in each of these areas. It should be noted that the free versions of these products do not offer automatic updates. It’s vital that you keep spyware blockers and anti-virus software up-to-date to ensure all known threats are protected against.
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Browsing the web is probably the easiest way to unknowingly infect your computer. This is usually done through ActiveX and scripts or misleading the user into downloading something malicious.
SpywareBlaster is a piece of software designed specifically for Internet Explorer to prevent the installation of spyware and adware through ActiveX. It also blocks cookies that might be used for tracking purposes and allows the user to disable Flash. There are also upgrades to SpywareBlaster Pro and Enterprise editions. Like most of the software on this list the pay version offers automatic updates, multi-user functionality and technical support.
NoScript is a Firefox plug-in that lets the user choose trusted sites that are allowed to run Java, Flash and other kinds of scripts. This is a lot more convenient than manually turning these on and off in the browser settings plus NoScript saves your settings on a site-by-site basis.
Making your browsing anonymous using Tor can prevent others from peaking at your network activity including the websites you browse, what kinds of servers you are connecting to, and personal and financial information. Tor accomplishes this using a network of volunteered computers, bouncing your encrypted requests between them before reaching the desired server. Tor is not 100% effective at hiding the data going through its exit nodes (the last computer your request bounces off before it reaches the server) but the source is still anonymous. Like any piece of software you should read up on its documentation before implementation.
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Firewalls offer a way to filter out unsafe connections and add an extra layer of protection between the computer and the Internet.
The pay version of Online-Armor is considered to be one of the best pieces of firewall software a home user can implement. Although the free version has fewer features it’s still a very effective security tool. With an easy to use interface and a very helpful wizard when you first boot up, Online-Armor is very user friendly.
With more in-depth information and features, Comodo will probably suit most casual users’ security needs. The free version of their firewall also comes with anti-virus and safe-browsing software. The firewall itself is known to be quite aggressive to ensure the user has more control over the connections being established.
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For those already infected or in need of constant protection from those pesky trojans, anti-viruses do their part to find and eradicate known viruses.
There is a reason this program has been around for almost two decades now. It has been without a doubt one of the most consistent anti-virus programs out there as far as detection and deletion of viruses goes. Although quite bulky, AVG also includes spyware, adware and phishing protection.
Although Avast looks more like a media player than a piece of anti-virus software, it is legitimate and free. The newest version of Avast now has the ability to block spyware unlike its previous versions. It also includes a rootkit remover which is a major advantage over AVG. A rootkit is a piece of malicious software that constantly changes to hide from anti-virus programs making them a lot more difficult to remove.