A few years ago when Windows Vista was the OS of choice, I chose not to use an antivirus. Instead I relied on a couple of anti-spyware solutions, my router’s firewall and good old common sense. This decision was partly due to my reluctance to pay for overpriced subscription-based security software (despite plenty of decent free alternatives) and concern over resources and boot time. In short, I didn’t want my AV interrupting a very important game of whatever I was into at the time, and took my chances accordingly.
A minimalist approach might not be for everyone, but here’s a few ideas and tips in case you were curious.
Pick Your Tools
These days I do use an antivirus, but not because I was burned by malware. Put simply, I don’t even notice my current AV of choice running thanks to a speedy dual-core processor and plenty of RAM.
For a lightweight solution, Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) is a free, no-fuss and fairly effective yet simple security tool that won’t bog your PC down too much. It provides protection against viruses, spyware and other malware and is regularly updated to detect the latest threats.
Using an antivirus alongside this solution is also possible, and from a personal standpoint my number one choice is Avast! Free. Not only will it play nicely with MSE but also updates itself daily (only notifying you once the update has been applied) and provides some pretty powerful features including a sandbox mode that allows you to open files in a safe, virtual environment.
I’d recommend it as a “minimalist” solution mainly because it can be configured to suit your needs, and toned right down if need be. There’s no annoying pop-up adverts, very little required in the way of maintenance and it also comes with an optional browser plugin which helps identify untrustworthy websites and displays a rating in search results.
That browser plugin can certainly help you make more informed choices when browsing the web, and that’s exactly what you want to be doing if you’re not using an antivirus, or simply have the bare minimum. If a dedicated antivirus is too much then don’t forget about the good number of online virus scanners that allow you to check your PC for problem without installing a thing.
Which brings us on to browsers. Whichever you choose, make sure it’s the latest version and keep on top of updates. It’s really what you do with your browser that makes the difference here, and while none are watertight; security is top priority these days. Plugins (especially Flash) should be regularly updated too, as should browser extensions (which you want to be picky about).
Last but not least PeerBlock is another optional security measure, and a fairly lightweight one at that. It controls what your computer “talks” to over the internet by blocking certain “bad” I.P. addresses and is totally configurable to your needs.
You could go all-out and download all manner of additional security programs, enable mail scanning and run Ad-Aware every night, but simply being careful online will save you hassle. Not opening dodgy files and email attachments from people you don’t know (or even those you do) is a good start.
Heeding browser warnings about suspected phishing or malware sites is always recommended, but also make sure to check URLs when signing in to banking or other important accounts. Webmail services like Gmail are a great alternative to desktop email applications and provide that extra layer of spam and virus detection before the malware even touches your PC.
You can even route existing POP3 accounts through Gmail and do everything from your browser, which eliminates the need for additional mail scanners. Be wary of USB sticks that aren’t yours as these can become vessels of disease just waiting to infect your PC. Oh, and if “Microsoft” calls then there’s a good chance they’re trying to scam you so be extra careful with the software you install.
Finally keeping the software you regularly use updated is paramount. This includes the OS itself, so don’t slack on updates. Other applications can also develop vulnerabilities so these are important too.
At the end of the day all this advice probably sounds very familiar. You could argue that all these things should be done even if you’re running at DEFCON 1. Regardless, if you are tempted to skimp (and I use the term lightly) on security you’ve got to be extra careful.
Personally I think this kind of caution will breed safer computer habits than a “don’t worry, Security Centre 2012 Pro and 20 spyware scanners take care of everything” outlook ever would – especially since there are so many threats no amount of security can guard against. What do you think, gang?
Image Credit: Abraham Williams