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The Best Security Setup for Your Laptop

Learn what you need to know to create the best security setup for your laptop. That way your computer stays safe from threats.

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The Best Security Setup for Your Laptop

As great as the Internet and computers are, like so many things there is a downside. One of the most annoying parts of living in an online world is dealing with viruses and malware. No one wants to do it but it is something that we all have to deal with. Sure, it’s time consuming and can often be confusing, but we all have to deal with it. If we don’t, I can guarantee that there will be problems for you down the road.

Today, I thought we should take the time to really look closely at our laptops and what we need to do to protect ourselves from those unsavory people that are looking to steal from us or just ruin our day. This article will aim to be a one stop shop for security. We will look at what kind of threats we have to deal with today and what we need to do to protect ourselves. We will briefly look at some security software as well so you have the best protection you can for your laptop.

It is my hope that when you are finished reading this article, you will have the knowledge and the tools you will need to effectively protect your system from all types of threats you will find online.

Know the Threats

Before you can protect yourself, you need to understand what kind of threats you have to watch for. You can break the threats down into three basic types: viruses, malware, and phishing scams. Let’s take a moment to define each type so you know what you are dealing with.

Viruses

These are probably the most well known forms of threats on the Internet today. They have been around since the very early days of computing, and are showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. These applications are designed to be destructive to your computer and some are built to even steal information right off your machine without you even knowing. Some will even hijack your computer giving the hacker control of your system which they will then use to try and infect others.

Malware

Malware is probably the most popular and common type of scam and annoyance created today. They are different from viruses because most don’t destroy data or even steal from you. What they do instead is slow down your system and even cause things to pop up. In some cases, they will try to convince you to purchase software to fix the problems that they caused on the system in the first place. While not as damaging in the long run, they are certainly the most annoying and can cause significant interruptions in your work.

Phishing Scams

These are a little different from other types of scams. You see, these scams don’t try to install something on your machine. Instead, they try to trick you to divulge personal information. They often come through email. In these emails, the scammers try to make you think they are your bank or some other institution that you use on a regular basis. They then try to get you to give out personal information. In some cases, they try to trick you into clicking on a link that will take you to a site that contains a virus or other types of malware as well.

Types of Viruses and Malware

Now that you understand the basic types of threats, let’s discuss for a minute some of the different kinds of viruses and malware you may encounter. This is by no means a complete list, but it will show you the most common forms that these threats will take today.

Installable Applications

These are the most common types of viruses and malware. These applications often install without you knowing and then get to work stealing from you or just annoying you. They can come from many different places. One of the most common that I have encountered is from websites or even ads on websites that are legitimate. The hackers upload the code and when you visit the site, it is downloaded and you are infected. All without you doing a single thing.

Adware

Adware is a different type of malware, as it doesn’t really do anything damaging. What it does do is cause ads to pop up on your system. These ads don’t ever seem to go away and often your system will slow down as well because of the added resources that it takes to serve out the ads.

Malware Apps

While this was covered above, one of the most common types of malware is actually malware that wants you to buy something. In many cases, it wants you to buy something that will supposedly remove the malware on your system. The reality is it won’t do a thing. You will just give your money to the scammers.

Ransomware

This is a relatively new type of attack, but one that is growing exponentially. In the last few years, ransomware has become one of the biggest concerns for security companies. With ransomware, an app is installed on your system that basically takes it hostage. You will have a message on your screen demanding that you pay money for a code that will then release your computer back to you. Many people end up actually paying the fee in order to get their files back. The problem is, you have no guarantee that you will get it back when you pay the fee and at the end of the day it is just another way for scammers to take your hard earned money.

What Do You Do?

With all these different types of threats, what’s a computer use to do? You have to protect yourself. But how do you protect yourself? First, you need to remember that no matter how well you insulate yourself from these threats, you could still be infected. However, if you have the right tools, then you can minimize the damage and even get rid of the threat if you do get infected.

In my opinion, there are five basic steps you need to take in order to best protect yourself from threats and make sure you can stop the threats if you do become infected.

  1. Engage in user best practices.
  2. Use strong antivirus software.
  3. Make use of a firewall.
  4. Add anti-malware software to your machine.
  5. Update and scan regularly.

Let’s take a look at each one of these individually so you can safeguard your laptop from threats and get rid of them if the unthinkable happens.

Engage in user best practices

The first and best defense against threats is to be a smart user. What I mean is you need to think logically about how you use your computer. First, don’t visit sites that could be considered malicious or sites that rely to heavily in ads. Consider adding an ad blocker to your browser if you have to go there. Never open any emails or attachments from people you don’t know. These attachments could be viruses. If you receive an email asking for your personal information, NEVER respond. Contact your bank or whatever other institution it is to see if they really did contact you. If they didn’t, tell them about the email so they are aware of a potential scam involving their systems.

Sometimes, you may get emails and attachments from people you know. Examine the attachment before you download it. There is a chance that they have been infected. If the attachment seems strange or the email doesn’t sound like them, don’t open it. Contact them to see if they really did send you something they wanted you to see.

Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t be fooled by silly scams. There is no Nigerian prince that is going to send you money. I still can’t believe that one actually worked and is still going around today. Don’t be fooled by anything that says you will get rich quick or anything that wants to send you one dime for free. I’m telling you now that none of that is real.

Use Strong Antivirus Software

Your first line of defense, and the one that most people do use today, is antivirus software. If you are running a budget laptop of $400 or less, you may want to find a lightweight Antivirus that doesn’t interfere with performance too much. There are many different antivirus options out there, and we will look at some of the best out there a little later in this article. No matter which one you choose, make sure you always use quality antivirus software. In fact, this should be the first thing you install on any new system.

Make Use of a Firewall

A firewall is something that many users don’t know a whole lot about. A firewall will monitor all your network traffic and allow you to choose what you allow in and out of your home network. In most modern operating systems, there is a firewall built right into the system. However, these firewalls are often very basic and only offer minimal protection. If you are serious about your security, you will need to use either a hardware or software based firewall to filter all your traffic.

Add Anti-malware Software to Your Machine

This one is often overlooked by users, mostly because they believe their antivirus software will scan for malware as well. In some ways, they are right. Most antivirus software today will also scan for a lot of malware, but unfortunately malware isn’t their primary focus. That means that you need to add high quality anti-malware to your system as well. These applications focus only on malware and will catch so much more than your antivirus software. This makes them a must have for anyone serious about security.

Update and Scan Regularly

Of course, it doesn’t matter how much software you have if you don’t use it. Before you do, you also need to make sure everything is up to date. I’m not just talking about your antivirus and anti-malware software, but everything on your system.

The first thing you need to do is make sure your computer’s operating system is up to date and then you also need to run any updates on the software that you use the most. This will make sure that exploits of specific applications gets patched and exploits of the OS itself are taken care of.

Once that is complete, you then need to run all the latest definition updates on your antivirus and anti-malware software. Once that is done, you should regularly run a scan of your system to see if it finds anything. If it does, have it removed immediately. I would recommend you run scans at last monthly. However, if security is a big concern with what you do, then you may want to increase the frequency that you run scans on your system. While the real-time scanning is very effective today, I wouldn’t rely on it by itself. You need to schedule and run regular scans on your system to make sure it stays clean.

Best Software to Use

Now that you know what you are guarding against and how you should do it, it is time to look at the tools of the trade. In this section, we will look at the various types of software you will need to properly protect your system from threats.

Best Antivirus Software

First, I think we should start with the basic antivirus software you will need. If you don’t download anything else here I recommend, download one of these from this list. Remember, only choose one. Trying to run more than one antivirus on your system won’t give you added protection. The two will interfere with one another.

Windows Defender

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I know some of you may disagree with me on this one, and I know that Microsoft’s antivirus doesn’t catch as much as other programs, but the application has really come a long way. The best thing about it is it comes with Windows 8 and Windows 10. That means you don’t have to do anything to get antivirus protection. Of course, if you want more protection that what Defender offers, you will need to check out other options.

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Avira

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Avira does a great job protecting your system from both viruses and malware. The interface is filled with options making it a bit intimidating to newcomers or users with limited computer experience. However, it is one of the strongest and most feature-rich pieces of software on this list, making it a great option for anyone looking to beef up their security.

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Bitdefender

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Now Bitdefender has been the industry leader for quite some time, and it does so while remaining very easy to use. It features one of the best antivirus and malware detection ability available today. On top of that, it is lightweight and very easy to use. The free version can be a little difficult to figure out, because it is a little too simple, but the commercial product is simply one of the best I have ever seen.

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Norton Antivirus

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I’m sure some of you are surprised about the inclusion of this one on the list. A few years ago and it wouldn’t be there. Norton earned a reputation for being slow and bloated over the years. On top of that, some viruses started slipping past its scanning. However, Norton has been rebuilt and updated to stop some of these problems. Today, it is lean and feature-rich. While it does cost money, you really can’t go wrong with this commercial entry into the security market.

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Kaspersky Antivirus

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Who knew a Russian company would end up being one of the security leaders here in the States. But that’s what happened, at least in the world of business. Kaspersky isn’t as popular in the home market, but its home product is every bit as effective as its commercial products. Kaspersky is one of the best antivirus products on the market. Though it has a bit of a reputation for being a resource hog, newer machines will have no problem running this one and you can rest assured your computer will be safe in the hands of this antivirus product.

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Best Anti-Malware Software

If you remember, I said that you need to install anti-malware software on your system on top of your normal antivirus software. This will give you the best protection and allow you to remove some types of malicious software that antivirus applications aren’t designed to remove.

Malwarebytes

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This is my go to anti-malware software and has been for quite some time. So far, malware makers haven’t been able to stop it from cleaning, although in some cases you may need to boot into safe mode for the best results. Still, the software is easy to use and very good at cleaning those annoying pieces of malware. While the free version will scan and clean, you can get real time scanning if you purchase the software.

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Ad Aware

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Ad Aware was one of the first anti-malware products to reach the market. Originally designed to wipe out tracking cookies and other files that would help serve you ads, the software evolved over time to take care of other malicious software. However, it isn’t quite as effective today as it used to be, but it still might not be a bad option to add to your arsenal, especially if ads are your major problem.

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SpyBot Search and Destroy

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For a while, this was my go to malware application. In recent years, Spybot has lost some luster to Malwarebytes, as hackers found ways around it. Still, Spybot continues to evolve and is pretty effective at wiping out malware and spyware. This makes it a great addition to anyone’s anti-malware arsenal.

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Best Firewall Software

Now, let’s take a look at Firewall software you should consider. While there are hardware options, they are better suited to large networks and not small, home networks. At home, I would suggest you run one of the following software firewalls.

ZoneAlarm

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ZoneAlarm was really the first to come to the market with a firewall product. Today, it is one of the most advanced personal firewalls that you can access for free. It’s easy to use and just works. Most users don’t understand what firewalls ask you, but ZoneAlarm tries to handle a lot of it for you so you don’t have to worry about answering yes or no to a plethora of access questions.

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Kaspersky Internet Security

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On top of their antivirus software, Kaspersky also builds in a software firewall into their Internet Security product. This application takes control of what is allowed and denied for you. It runs in conjunction with the antivirus product to give you the best possible protection possible. If you aren’t sure how to configure a firewall and use it, I believe that this product could be one of the best options for you. Just remember, it may not allow you to access some things until you allow them through the application.

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Windows Firewall

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If you don’t have anything else installed on your computer, please make sure you have the Windows Firewall turned on. This firewall is built into Windows and enabled by default. If you install something else, it will be turned off by default. This firewall, while basic, is still filled with enough features to protect most home users. You can customize what you let in and out of your PC, but if you want more control I would suggest you check out the two options we discussed above.

Remember, you need to install one of each of these types of applications on to your computer for the best protection. Once installed, make sure that you keep them all up to date and then run scans with them at least once a month to keep your machine clean. I know it will take time, but try scheduling the scans when you won’t be on your system so there is very little interruption to your schedule.

Let’s Talk Operating Systems

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the software you need to run on your computer, but we need to address the different types of operating systems out there and how secure each one of them really is.

There are three basic types of operating systems in use in the home. They are:

  • Windows
  • Mac
  • Linux

There are many different versions of each of these, but for the purposes of this article, we will just talk briefly about them.

OS Rundown

First, you should know that the most secure out there is Linux. This operating system is based on Unix, and offers some of the best security on the market. This security does vary from distribution to distribution, but in general you can bet that they are very secure.

Next on the list, is Apple’s macOS. Apples operating system, much like Linux, is built on Unix, making it highly secure. If you need top security and the software you use is Apple compatible, this could be the best option for you.

Windows 10 comes in next as the most secure of all Microsoft’s operating systems. It is easy to use and looks great and comes with many new security enhancements including improvements to keep the browser separate from the rest of the operating system so you don’t get infected through the Internet.

Windows 8 and Windows 7 come in last simply because they are aging systems. While Microsoft still supports them, they don’t have as many security features built into the operating system as Windows 10, making them less secure compared to Windows 10.

Why Is Windows Affected More Than Others

Users often ask me this question. Why is Windows impacted more by viruses and malware? Does Microsoft make an insecure product? It comes down to a couple of factors. First, Windows architecture, while secure, isn’t quite as secure as Unix and Unix-like operating systems. That doesn’t mean its insecure, just not quite as tight as some of the other options. Second, more people use Windows than any other option out there. That means that more hackers have Windows. At the same time, these people like to infect as many people as they can. So how do you do that? If you want to infect as many as you can, would you target Apple that has about 10 percent of the market, or Windows that has over 80 percent? I think you understand where I’m going with this.

If you choose Windows, and it is understandable if you do, then you have to make sure you take a few extra precautions to make sure your laptop stays safe. Make sure you use a firewall, antivirus, and anti-malware software that you keep up to date and always use best practices and common sense when using your machine.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, your complete guide to security. I do believe that if you read through this entire article, you will have the knowledge you need to properly protect your laptop from all threats.

Remember, when setting up your security, always install antivirus software and anti-malware software as well as make use of a decent firewall to protect your system from threats. But that’s not enough. You need to also use best practices when using your computer. Never open anything you receive if you don’t know where it came from or who sent it to you.

In the end, your security is up to you. You are responsible for yourself and your laptop. Now you have no excuse. You know what you need and how you should use your machine, so I leave it to you. Good luck and I hope that this article will help you solve your security needs on your laptop.

By Matt Garrett

Matt is an IT professional with over fifteen years experience supporting network infrastructure and computers. An avid gamer, Matt enjoys his time playing and writing about his experiences both in the IT world and in the gaming communities. You can find more of his writing on our sister ShopNinja sites where he enjoys talking about anything and everything tech.

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