Turn your PC on, and you’re immediately vulnerable to malicious attacks. But you can use these free applications to minimize the dangers and protect yourself.
From the moment you switch on your PC, your system faces countless Internet-borne dangers, including spyware attacks, viruses, Trojan horses, home-page hijackers, and hackers trying to weasel their way into your system. And the Internet isn’t the only source of trouble. Anyone with access to your PC can invade your privacy by prying into which Web sites you visit–and learning a great deal more as well.
But fighting back is easy. We’ve found 15 great pieces of software–firewalls, spyware busters, antivirus software, rootkit killers, and general Internet security tools–designed to protect you against any dangers that come your way. They’re free, they’re powerful, and they’re easy to use. So what are you waiting for? Start downloading.
Preventing and Eliminating Malware
From firewalls to antivirus software to tools for combating rootkits and spyware, here are some great downloads that will protect your system against malicious attacks.
Check Point Software’s ZoneAlarm may well be the most popular free firewall on the planet, and the most recent release (finally) protects Vista machines. Arguably, ZoneAlarm is the product that made everyone conscious of the need for firewall protection. It’s extremely easy to use, and its method of configuring outbound protection is particularly useful. Whenever a program tries to make an outbound Internet connection, ZoneAlarm announces it with a popup alert. You can then permit or disallow the connection, on a one-time basis or permanently. Configuring your level of protection is a simple matter of moving a few sliders. Though the free version of the software is exclusively a firewall, Check Point also offers for-pay security suites. But if all you’re looking for is a firewall, stick with the free version.
Comodo Firewall Pro
ZoneAlarm is extremely popular, but that doesn’t automatically make it the best free firewall you can find. One formidable contender is Comodo Firewall Pro, which independent testing site Matousec rated as the top firewall. Matousec found that Comodo offered the highest level of antileak protection, one measure of a firewall’s effectiveness. Comodo offers true two-way firewall protection, is highly configurable, and (unlike most other firewalls) provides a great view of your system and your Internet connection.
Download Comodo Firewall Pro
Tired of dealing with bloated, overpriced security suites that bog down your system and cost an arm and a leg, when all you want is antivirus software? Then get Avast, a superb antivirus program that’s free for home and personal use. Because it’s a lean piece of software, it imposes a relatively light burden on system resources and RAM. Despite this, it kills viruses in their tracks and has plenty of extras, including live scanning to prevent viruses from infecting your PC in the first place. Avast can scan regular and Web-based e-mail for viruses, too, and it protects against instant messaging viruses, peer-to-peer dangers, and more.
One of the most feared types of malware is the rootkit–malicious software that many types of antimalware can’t detect. Not uncommonly, bad guys use rootkits to hide Trojan horses, which can then be used to take over your PC without your knowledge. AVG Anti-Rootkit’s sole purpose is to find and kill rootkits. Run it and it scans your PC, sniffing rootkits out and removing any it finds. Note that this utility doesn’t work with Windows Vista.
Download AVG Anti-Rootkit
Some of the nastiest kinds of spyware–autodialers, home page hijackers, and others–install themselves as ActiveX controls. Spyware Blaster protects you against them, blocking the installation of ActiveX-based malware and other types of spyware, and eradicating tracking cookies that might otherwise invade your privacy. The program works with Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer, and it prevents your browser from being diverted to dangerous sites. One particularly nice touch is the utility’s System Snapshot, which (as you’d expect) takes a snapshot of your PC; if your computer gets infected later on, you can revert to the clean version.
Download Spyware Blaster