8 Tools that can Help Keep Your PC Secure

John Lister's picture

At Infopackets we're often asked to recommend security software and tools or give our opinion on specific products. While every product has its pros and cons, as the old saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. With that in mind, I thought I'd run down the actual tools I use in my day to day life rather than when we're testing out products. That means trying to find the balance of staying protected without taking up too much time and attention or computing resources.

Permanent

My main anti-virus software is Microsoft Security Essentials on Windows 7. It's definitely a "set-it-and-forget-it" product rather than one for people who like constantly tweaking and customizing settings. Possibly because it's designed by Microsoft, I find it runs well in Windows and doesn't noticeably slow down my computer. Because I'm happy with its performance, I don't run any other anti-virus software as running two at the same time can increase the problem of "false positives" and affect computer performance. For Windows 10 users, Windows Defender (antivirus / antimalware) comes standard.

I also have several security-related tools running in the Chrome browser. Google's own Password Alert performs one simple but important task: it warns you when you are about to submit your Google password to a non-Google site. It's designed as an extra line of defense against phishing scams where sites pose as Google.

Rapport from Trusteer is an extension recommended by my online bank that aims to catch bogus sites posing as legitimate ones.

I also use LastPass, which isn't a security tool as such, but rather a password manager than means I can have secure, hard-to-guess passwords for hundreds of sites without having to remember them individually.

Weekly Checks

Once a week I run several tools on CCleaner. As well as cleaning up unwanted files and checking the Windows Registry, I check the list of recently installed programs and the list of programs set to run as soon as Windows starts up. Both of these can highlight programs that have installed themselves maliciously and could be security threats. While all of these tools are available in Windows itself, CCleaner has an easy-to-use interface that brings it all together.

I also check the list of installed extensions in Chrome to see if anything unexpected has appeared.

Monthly Checks

Once a month I'll run a full Malwarebytes AntiMalware (free) scan. It's quite resource-intensive but is a handy extra line of defense for picking up anything that Microsoft Security Essentials has missed. It's handy as it doesn't have to be permanently running and embedded in your system like many security packages. It's also good for picking up unwanted software which isn't necessary a security threat but can slow down a computer or create unwanted pop-up windows.

As And When

If I notice any strange behavior on my PC that could suggest some form of rogue application running (possibly behind the scenes) and nothing has been picked up by any other security tools, I'll run Microsoft's Process Explorer. It's a one-click tool that tells you exactly what your computer is doing. While a lot of the details are fairly technical and not always meaningful for the average home user, if you enable the "Virus Total option" and wait for a minute or two, Process Explorer will check every process (one specific thing your computer is doing) against a database of viruses to see if something unwanted is happening. That will give you the chance to stop the process running and immediately run tools such as Malwarebytes to find and remove any offending software.

What's Your Opinion?

We'd love to hear about your security routines. Are there tools you find more useful? How do you balance security and convenience?

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Comments

Dennis Faas's picture

That's a good tip about the Process Explorer and Virus Total. I was not aware that was even an option. Apparently it's only been around for the last two years.

Based on my own experience, when it comes to antivirus and Windows 10, Avast! runs with much fewer resources (less CPU, less RAM) than Windows Defender - but only if you configure Avast! to use real-time checking only and with deep scan disabled. That is how I have mine set and it works fine. If I think I'm infected I'll run Malwarebytes Antimalware free. If I think I may have downloaded something suspicious I'll upload it to Virustotal.com and scan the file against 50+ antivirus databases.

Rusty's picture

Thanks to the author and Dennis for the advice. I'm curious for one thing about the ccleaner registry cleaner. I had used it approximately monthly for many years without any issue. I also used it on my father's computer without any problems. I most typically cleaned everything that was suggested, but not always. In helping me with another matter recently, Dennis suggested I never ever run a registry cleaner again. I've since taken this advice, but would value another opinion. Something is bogging down my Windows 10 PC recently, but there is too much that is new for an average user to narrow down the cause(s). For example, Dennis suggested I abandon my paid subscription to Norton Internet Security and start using Avast free version as he configured it, as well as the Windows Firewall. NIS was very light on resources and was not an intrusive kind of security suite at all. I know Norton had some other bad press recently, but I don't think today's Norton products are anything like the image that the name conjures up of some kind of archaic relic that isn't relevant to today's systems. Avast free seems decent too, however, best I can tell. It will end an annual subscription payment if it proves to be effective for my needs. Call me a harsh Microsoft critic and skeptic, but I don't feel overly secure using Microsoft or Windows security tools, and that includes the Windows Firewall. That said, it is a good point about the potential virtue in using tools that are specifically made for the OS. At any rate, I read from others that ccleaner isn't a very aggressive registry cleaner and is unlikely to cause harm. Perhaps that also means it isn't likely to do much good...I don't know. I'd be interested in specific comments from John Lister and any others about using this function of ccleaner. As far as computer security overall, I truly believe cautionary user behavior is the best antimalware assurance.

revlo4321_7982's picture

One more level of protection I use if my suspicions are raised. Online scan using Hitman Pro, One scan only mode is free with provided email and any email seems to work.

swreynolds's picture

I've been removing viruses, malware and junk files for years. I don't use many of the suggestions listed above. Microsoft's anti-malware has been basically junk for years. It won't find even the simplest of bad guys. The only time there was any hope was when they bought Giant Software (now Windows Defender), but they didn't dedicate enough resources to keep up with the constantly changing world of malware. I don't recommend Windows Defender for anything. Microsoft's Security Essentials is a complete joke.

For finding and removing malware and viruses, I (currently) use JRT, Malware Bytes and Avast (boot time scan). None of them find everything, and there are occasional false positives, but they make a good start. When they haven't found and removed the bad guys, I use a lot of alternatives when I have an inkling of what might be wrong, but none are thorough enough by themselves. Often I must find and remove the problems manually, using MSCONFIG for the simple ones and Autoruns for others. Nasty or infected DLL's and .SYS's are especially difficult to troubleshoot.

My favorites for real time protection are Malware Bytes, ESET and Vipre. Norton and McAfee are a waste of money. The first thing I do when someone brings in a machine for delousing is to remove them. It doesn't matter whose protection you have, there is something out there designed to attack it and render it useless (or worse, seeming to still work).

There are plenty of infections for the popular browsers, and very few tools to fight them. I usually have to make manual corrections to complete their cleanup. Occasionally, I have to remove the browser, its folders and files and its registry entries and reinstall.

I haven't read anyone who thinks that cleaning the registry is good, but I do it anyway.

CCLEANER is quite weak at cleaning junk files. I use Drive Tidy and Find Junk Files along with some manual removal. I don't actually recommend them for the average user (Especially manual removal).

BJB's picture

I enjoy your articles and use a similar routine although use ESET for antivirus. But I know none of them will protect a PC from a crypto virus attack.

What do you think of whitelist programs like SecureAPlus? Upon install it creates a whitelist of all installed programs and then based on the settings either prompts upon a new install, or does not allow. This supposedly will stop a crypto type virus.

What are your thoughts? What group policy settings or programs have you used to protect from these type of attacks?

BJB

Sparkydog's picture

I agree with swreynolds.
MS Essentials is crap, slow, and bulky.
I have been running ESET NOD32 for several years, now. It is a great product. Recently, I have been running Malwarebytes Premium alongside it, for about 5 months, now.
As for running registry checks, defragmentation, and cleaning junk files, I use iolo's System Mechanic Pro, but not the anti-virus that is packaged with it.
My only problem with that application, is that it does not remember that I was not running the antivirus, and will install it when it does a product update.
Iobit's ActiveCare is a fairly good FREE an total application, but it constantly nags you to upgrade to the paid version.
I use Process Explorer, and did not know about the "Virus Total option.:
Thanks for that tip.

buzzallnight's picture

it can be helpful to see what most people like or don't like.

Only Microsoft Security Essentials on Windows 7 is just not a good idea at all.

Avast is better although it slows you down when going online.

Windows Defender and Malwarebytes AntiMalware (free) have never found anything in years and I don't use them anymore.

I haven't used CCLEANER for years but it used to remove all settings and generally make a mess of my computer.

I use Glary free now and like all their stuff except the hard drive optimization that really slowed my computer down.