A minimal security configuration for a PC calls for a hardware firewall, a software security suite, a means of frequently updating all of your applications, and a secure Web browser.
When you’re on the road, you have no control over what hardware firewall your laptop may — or may not — be connected to. Consequently, you should ensure that the software firewall included with your portable’s security suite is fully enabled.
Windows Secrets does not have a test lab and doesn’t run its own security tests. Instead, WS writers have researched the latest published security-products tests and summarized that data. Based on these findings, the WS Security Baseline provides our recommendations in the following four categories:
1. Hardware firewall. The Cisco Valet Plus (info page), a basic wireless router, priced at around $130. It received high marks from CNET and earned an Editor’s Choice designation from PCMag.com. Reviewers pointed to its good performance and fast, user-friendly setup that includes the innovative USB Easy Setup key.
For a dual-band router, check out the Linksys E3000 Simultaneous Dual-Band Wireless-N Router, is priced around $180. It’s an update of the Linksys WRT610N, which earned very good scores from CNET and ZDNet. The E3000 has a sleek, low-profile design similar to that of the Valet Plus and shares that router’s ease of setup. The E3000 supports gigabit Ethernet speeds and has a USB port for external network-attached storage.
2. Security suite. Symantec’s Norton Internet Security suite, probably more so than any other AV software, has taken hard knocks for slowing down PCs. This time around, however, CNET, PCWorld, and PCMag.com all noted that the suite’s impact on PC performance is much improved. The software’s ability to block new threats earned it top scores from all three publications.
For a free anti-malware suite, look no further than Microsoft Security Essentials. Windows Secrets Patch Watch columnist Susan Bradley recommends MSE for average PC users, and senior editor Fred Langa wrote a lengthy and generally positive review in his May 6 Top Story.
For more on the latest security suites, see the May 13 WS Top Story, “New findings update WS Security Baseline.”
3. Update management. Susan Bradley and several other WS contributing editors recommend that you configure Windows’ Automatic Updates service to Notify me but don’t automatically download and install. Before installing any Windows updates, read Susan’s twice-a-month Patch Watch column (paid content) and other Windows Secrets articles to learn which patches are risky or otherwise undesirable.
Secunia has one of the better sites; it scans PCs and reports on which applications need updating. Its Online Software Inspector (OSI) (product page) runs in your browser, requiring no download or installation. You can also download the company’s Personal Software Inspector (which runs as a standalone app) and sign up for Secunia’s automatic update-check reminders.
4. Secure browser. The security of any browser is only as good as its last update. So the most important task is to accept any patches offered for your browsers. Even if you don’t use a browser such as Internet Explorer, install its updates. Other applications and processes may use it behind the scenes.
Secunia posts regular reports on current browser vulnerabilities and patches. Its recent scorecard for Google’s Chrome 4.x lists no unpatched security issues, and other sources have commented on Chrome’s excellent resistance to malware.
Internet Explorer and Firefox have had numerous unpatched vulnerabilities in the past, but the most recent have been fixed quickly or are considered minor issues.