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Minimizing Windows Risks

Posted 5 Jan 2006 | Comments Off on Minimizing Windows Risks | 1,944 views

Using a Windows-based system is quickly becoming the Internet equivalent of driving an early British automobile. Users are spending more and more time fixing problems rather than using their computer. One of the first steps to securing a computer is installing a firewall. Unfortunately, a firewall doesn’t help protect you from software that is already installed on your computer.

The tight integration of Internet Explorer and Outlook to Windows is often touted as one of their greatest strengths. This allows for faster loading times and better interoperability with other Microsoft appliactions; however, it’s also a path for malicious or invasive attacks on the computer. One of the most painful steps for some is going to be switching to non-Microsoft products.

Two good browser alternatives are Mozilla and Firefox. Switching to these browsers doesn’t mean less functionality. The developers of both go through great efforts to ensure that they are compliant with accepted web standards. In fact, they also have a few additional features such as tabbed browsing and popup blocking that make surfing a little less cluttered.

Some people might be thinking about certain frequently visited sites that require Internet Explorer. Take the the opportunity to inform those sites that you are making the switch because of the security risks.

Installing a local filtering proxy is another good method for reducing web-based threats. Corportation often use filtering proxies at the Internet egress points monitor and protect their users. Privoxy and Proximitronare two very good free proxies that can help eliminate those headaches. A filtering proxy can also help other applications that use the HTTP transport for their communications.

Giving up Outlook may also be hard for some. Outlook has a reputation as a virus replicator because of its suspecibility to the latest worms and viruses, and moving away from it should be seen as an opportunity to protect your address book. If you’ve already decided to give Mozilla a try, you may have already discovered that it also includes messaging and calendaring functionity. The companion applications to Firefox are Thunderbird for email and Sunbird for calendaring. They are both extremely lightwieght yet full featured programs. In addition, the Enigmail extension allows for quick support of encrypted email. No Windows desktop is complete without an antivirus package. ClamAV for Windows nicely fills this niche. Point-and-click users might want to look at ClamWin, a GUI implementation of ClamAV for Windows.

Of course, the Mozilla Foundation is not the only source of applications to replace Internet Explorer and Outlook. Other popular alternatives include the Opera browser and the Pegasus email client. The software directory catalogs many other options.

The next big hurdle is instant messaging. Some companies are discovering that their website tactics can be used in the IM arena. User can take a small leap by switching to alternative clients such as GAIM or AMSNor take a big leap by jumping to an open messaging platform like Jabber. Surprisely many of the Jabber clients include plugins to communicate with users on other IM systems. GAIM supports all of the major IM protocols, and there are plugins for encrypted chat.

Once you’ve made the switch to other applications, how do you monitor and maintain your secure environment? Spybot – Search and Destroy and Ad-aware are two popular tools for scanning and cleaning Windows computers. More advanced users might want to look into HijackThis. These tools can help you make educated decisions regarding possible problems.

Just as people starting selling off their 1960s era British autos, so will people start migrating to something more secure and reliable once they’ve done enough tinkering. Some poeple grow weary of continually applying the “after market fixes”.

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