Occasionally I have been requested to check over someones PC, whether its a friend, relative, or client, as they suspect they have a virus, malware, or some other form of malicious content on their PC.

Usually their suspicions are aroused when they find their PC is starting to operate differently from its normal day to day behaviour, such as showing more pop-ups whenever online, slow down of their PC, unexplained crashes, or worse complete system failure.

In the worst case scenario of a complete system failure, I usually format and reinstall the Operating System, and then add a selection of software and plugins which I have trusted and believe have helped to keep my PC clear of any virus infections or malicious content. For other issues, usually a virus scan and a malware scan will quickly identify if the PC has been infected, and if it hasn’t then it is usually a system fault which is another issue.

The following list is a range of free software and free browser plugins that I have found useful to prevent any unwanted content, as well as protect my privacy from advertisers online. This list is all the software that I install on every PC as standard.

PC Software

Avast Antivirus: In my opinion Avast is one of the best Antivirus software around and the service provided to free users is excellent. Avast requires registration for a years licence, which needs to be renewed annually. Both the software and registration is free and the top benefit for Avast is the real time scanning with virus definition files updated on a regular basis.

Further Information: http://www.avast.com/

MalwareBytes Anti-Malware: Another very good piece of software that is provided for free and is very to use. The software detects and removes malware that may be resident on your PC, including worms, trojans, rootkits, dialers, and spyware. The free version doesn’t have real time protection unless you purchase the software, but I’ve always found that Avast with a few other Browser plugins keep me safe from most malware, and only occasionally do I have to use MalwareBytes.

Further Information: http://www.malwarebytes.org/mbam.php

CCleaner: CCleaner allows you to protect your Privacy by clearing out all the unwanted clutter that is generated from browsing online, including cookies, internet cache, temporary cache, and more. CCleaner can speed up your PC if you have allowed the clutter to build up too much and thus draining your PCs resources. The other good thing about CCleaner is that you can easily edit your registry start up files and stop unwanted programs from automatically running in the background every time you boot up your PC.

Further Information: http://www.ccleaner.com/

Mozilla FireFox: FireFox is a free internet browsing software released as Open Source, which means there are several thousands of programmers and developers, constantly upgrading the software to make it one of the safest and securest to use when browsing online. With a very good set of user safety measures already built into the browser, FireFox can be adapted very easily with a range of plugins to make it even more secure.

Further Information: http://www.mozilla.com/

Mozilla FireFox Plugins

FireFox has the ability to add plugins to your browser to enhance your browsing experience. There is a wide range of plugins available including video managers, games, social networks, and security to name a few.

Below is a list of plugins which I use and automatically add to every fresh install of FireFox to ensure better security and privacy online.

AdBlock Plus: Online advertising can be very in your face at times, and also some unscrupulous advertisers pass malicious content via their flash adverts. With AdBlock Plus you can block these adverts from ever showing, which has the added benefit of reducing how much bandwidth you use when browsing online and can increase the speed of a webpage load time, as no ads are being loaded. If any Ads are being show you can quickly block these Ads with a couple of clicks and stop this Advertiser showing you any of their Ads elsewhere.

I have been browsing almost completely Ad free for several years, whenever I have to browse online with a system that allows ads, I find it a great shock on how much advertising is present on the Internet and how this interferes with the content I have tried to view.

Further Information: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1865

BetterPrivacy: There has been a lot of publicity about the use of cookies and how they can be used to “track” people. While their can be an issue of “bad” cookies, some of the publicity and hype around cookies is unjustified. Cookies can be essential to deliver certain services and features online and in general are not usually harmful.

However their is a newish type of cookie that has hardly received any publicity at all which in my opinion people should be made aware of, and these cookies are often referred to as “Super Cookies”. Super Cookies or Flash Cookies is a collection of cookies you get when browsing sites that deliver some of their content through Flash. If you have flash player installed you will get the cookie “settings.sol” which controls your flash settings.

Most Flash Cookies are probably harmless, for instance you get 3 flash cookies from YouTube but these cookies are storing your preferences for the Flash Video Player (ie – sound levels, playback position, etc.). The dangerous thing about Flash Cookies is that they can track your browsing behaviour from site to site, the information that is collected, stored and transmitted can be unlimited, you can set defaults (50Kb, 2Mb, 10Mb, Unlimited) through the Flash Player Settings.

The other thing about Flash/Super Cookies is that they are not easily removed, most people aren’t aware they exist, and usually to remove them you would have to manually browse your folders to find and delete them. BetterPrivacy changes that by allowing you to see what Flash/Super Cookies is running on your system and easily delete them after each (or during) browsing session.

Further Information: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/6623

Ghostery: Ghostery is the newest plugin I’ve been using to stop ads (in conjunction with Adblock Plus) and to stop tracking scripts from loading. This helps speed up access to certain websites as you don’t have to wait for the page to load all the advertisiers tracking scripts. Whats more Ghostery lets you see what services have been blocked, with an unobtrusive box displayed in the top right hand corner.

Further Information: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/9609

McAfee SiteAdvisor: SiteAdvisor adds a coloured warning to your browser to let you know if the page you are viewing is considered safe or dangerous with a detailed report available to view. The coloured ratings are:

  • Green = Safe
  • Yellow = Caution
  • Red = Dangerous
  • Grey = Untested (no rating)

I do not fully rely on SiteAdvisor warnings asthey can be out of date up to a year, so sites that have originally had a red rating may have been cleaned up but the red rating will follow for up to a year. Sites that have been rated green (at the time of checking) can then quickly be changed the webmasters to include malicious content which will not be reflected in the ratings for up to a year. A year is a long time in web development terms so I only use the ratings as a cautionary rather than a definitive.

Further Information: http://www.siteadvisor.com/

WOT (Web of Trust): WOT is almost the same as SiteAdvisor in that they use the coloured rating system for websites. The big difference is that sites are rated by professionals and by other WOT users (myself included). This is all backed up by a very active forum in which untested sites can be requested to be looked at and rated by others (including professionals), and previously rated sites can be re-looked at if you think the site has been rated wrongly.

The rating system is updated on a daily basis, meaning you get better real-time results about websites that are clean or malicious. I personally trust the ratings of WOT more than SiteAdvisor as the ratings can change on a frequent basis, however, I prefer to run both as this gives me more knowledge to make a better informed decision on whether or not to view a site.

Further Information: http://www.mywot.com/

Lochgelly Community Toolbar: Of course I had to plug the Lochgelly Toolbar, I mainly use it for radio and quick e-mail access, however there is a quick button that lets you clear your Browser Cache, Browser History, Browser Cookies, which is very useful as well.

Further Information: http://lochgelly.org.uk/?page_id=1639

In Conclusion

This isn’t a definitive list, as I’m sure many people can suggest other tools they use, to keep their PC security and Privacy, but I found this list has helped to keep my PC clean and secure for several years. As always you should always judge sites for yourself and learn to spot the signs that a site may be malicious in nature or disrespects your right to privacy. These tools merely help you protect your PC better and help you make better informed choices of what sites to visit or avoid.

If you have found this article useful, want to comment, leave feedback, add your suggestions, please do so in the comments below.

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