Explained: Top 15 Ways to Keep Your PC Secure in 2017 (and Beyond)

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader 'Rebecca' writes:

" Dear Dennis,

I recently purchased a tablet with Windows 10 and I have Windows Defender running. My question is whether I need to install any other protection to stop people (hackers) from being able to steal my bank details, etc. My dad was recently a victim of this but I don't know how to protect myself. How can I keep my PC secure in 2017? Thank you in advance! "

My response:

I have been asked this question no less than 100 times in the last 16 years I've been writing articles online - but the truth of the matter is that the answer changes slightly as the years go on. I'll answer it again in 2017, with regard to technology and threats in 2017 - and beyond.

Explained: Top 15 Ways to Keep Your PC Secure in 2017 (and Beyond)

Here goes - in order of preference:

  1. Use the latest operating system from Microsoft available when at all possible. When Windows XP was released, it was the greatest thing since sliced bread - but it was also full of security issues, which got much, much worse as time went on. Windows XP is now ranked one of the most unsecure and dangerous operating systems in the world. In other words, don't use Windows XP; instead, use Windows 7, 8, or 10 - preferably Windows 10 - because each edition of Windows contains more security features to protect you from today's threats. If you own Windows 7 or 8, you can still qualify for the free Windows 10 upgrade (though there are some hoops to jump through) - if you need help upgrading, I can assist by remote - refer to the bottom of this article for more info.
     
  2. Backup your system regularly using disk images. Do the backups locally - not on the cloud - preferably on an external hard drive. Disk images are the best backup choice because they can restore both operating system and user files, whereas simple backup programs can only restore user files. Cloud backups are not ideal for disk images because it requires backing up the entire hard drive, which would take days, if not weeks to backup (and restore) over the Internet due to inadequate connection speeds. Cloud backups for the most part are simply a bad decision, cost money, and are not necessary - this is especially true when free cloud backups exist - but only for a small subset of data. Besides that, cloud backups cannot restore your operating system especially if the operating system is unbootable; disk image backups always have a bootable recovery environment (usually on CD or USB) in such cases. I can help with this if you need it - refer to the very bottom of this article for more info.
     
  3. Download Windows Updates and install them whenever they become available. Most operating system security issues are related to loopholes in the graphical user interface (GUI) of Windows. Therefore, you need to patch your system regularly, and as soon as the patches become available. If you are worried that a patch may install improperly and cause problems on your machine, you can use a disk image backup to rollback if necessary. There is no reason to delay patching your system.
     
  4. Always keep your antivirus up to date and do a full system scan once in a while (example: every 30 days). Most antivirus programs will patch themselves automatically, but it's important to check the interface to ensure the antivirus is running and that your system is protected. Also, be aware of fake antivirus and fake antimalware programs online - these are scams. Stick to brand names like Avast, Avira, Norton, Mcafee, and the like. I personally use Avast! antivirus free, configured lightweight (real-time file scanning only, disabled sound alerts, with "silent gaming mode" enabled [so it stays out of your face], and: reputation, cyber capture, hardened mode disabled).
     
  5. Don't go overboard on "protection" with third-party utilities that claim to "protect" your system "more" than the operating system already does, as this will only serve to slow your computer down to a crawl. This is especially true if you are running Windows 10, which offers the most protection for PCs. The only protection you need is a properly configured firewall (the Windows Firewall works fine as it is), and real-time antivirus file scanning. On top of that, follow every rule I've mentioned in this article and you'll be fine.
     
  6. Never, ever call a 1-800 number to "fix" a "computer problem" that spontaneously appears out of nowhere - especially while you're browsing the Internet. These are scams. Examples include: you visit a website and all the sudden, your computer starts talking to you and says you're infected; it then conveniently provides a 1-800 number to "fix" the problem. Another example: you visit a website and you experience a (fake) "blue screen of death" or a fake "firewall warning" message, along with a 1-800 number to "fix" the problem. Another example: you visit a webpage and all the sudden it lists your IP address, your country, location, and even your Internet Service Provider, then tells you to call a 1-800 number because you're "infected". These are scams for fake tech support with the average cost of $300 or more, plus the risk of identify theft. Once these scammers get your credit card, they will hound you repeatedly for more "fixes" to up the ante.
     
  7. If "Microsoft" calls you on the phone and says your computer is "infected", tell them to pound sand and immediately hang up the phone. This is a scam for fake tech support, similar to the above example, with the average cost of $300 or more, plus the risk of identify theft. These bastards won't give up easily and will likely call you repeatedly - you need to be resilient and simply hang up. Note that the real Microsoft does not solicit tech support over the phone. In fact, if any "technician" solicits you on the phone out of the blue and claims you have a virus, or that they want to get into your computer for this, that, or anything else - it's probably a scam! Take note - if they usually solicit you - not you soliciting them - it's probably a scam!
     
  8. Don't click on email attachments even if they come from "friends". The rule here is: if you didn't ask for it, don't click it and certainly don't install it, no matter how convincing the source may be. If your friend gets infected with malware, the malware will propagate itself by emailing everyone on his contact list with a convincing "personalized" message, usually asking to open some sort of email attachment (which then infects you) or click on a link (with the potential to infect you). Only open an email attachment if and only if you've expressly asked for the attachment ahead of time.
     
  9. Never, ever download or install a program from a source you don't otherwise have a trust relationship with. For example: if you click on a friend's email link that contains a "funny video" and it takes you to a website you've never been to before, which then promises to 'fix' a problem for your computer, or provides you with something that seems too good to be true, don't click it and don't install it. Remember: if you didn't ask for it, don't click it and certainly don't install it, no matter how convincing the source may be.
     
  10. Don't download and install programs just because a website asks you to. For example: one recent scam displays a webpage with fonts that appear jumbled up, then prompts the user with a very convincing message to install a "browser font pack" to fix the error so that the page loads properly. This is a scam and is laced with malware. Remember: if you didn't ask for it, don't click it and certainly don't install it, no matter how convincing the source may be.
     
  11. Should you download a program from a reputable website and install the program to your machine, always be careful to read through the EULA (end user license agreement) to make sure the program you're installing isn't going to spy on you or install third-party programs. Also, whenever possible, don't install any "third party offers" that prompt you during a program installation (otherwise known as "bundled goodies"), as they are usually scams. Remember: if you didn't ask for it, don't click it and certainly don't install it, no matter how convincing the source may be.
     
  12. Always keep banking and other financial information secure, encrypted, and password protected. Should your system become compromised, you don't want hackers accessing your financial data in a plain text file. Instead, use a password-protected and encrypted file to store such information. I can help with this if you need it - refer to the very bottom of this article for more info.
     
  13. Don't use the same password on every website - this is one of the best things you can do online to help keep online data breaches under control. Use unique, strong passwords for every website you visit. This will lessen the chance of a hacker gaining access to one account, and then accessing all your accounts online. If possible, use a password manager like Roboform that can encrypt and keep track of all your passwords and automatically fill forms for you. I can help with this if you need it - refer to the very bottom of this article for more info.
     
  14. As a second opinion to your antivirus program, do a manual malware scan each month on the system. For this I recommend malwarebytes antimalware. The free version works fine and there is certainly no reason to turn on "real time file scanning" (which is only available if you pay for it with a subscription), as this will inevitably slow your system down to a crawl. Also, if you've followed this article from top to bottom, the only "real time file scanning" you need is the one provided by your antivirus.
     
  15. When in doubt: hire a good tech that knows what he's doing, has credentials to prove it, is trustworthy and has your best interest at heart, and will always steer you in the right direction. I provide such a service not only for the clients that hire me, but for anyone that emails me a question on this website. If you need to get in touch, all you need to do is send me an email - described next.

Additional 1-on-1 Support: From Dennis

This article is an excellent guide when it comes to helping to keep you and your PC protected in the online world of 2017 - in fact, these are the rules that I follow myself. If you need help securing your system online the Internet - whether it's a tablet, PC, laptop, or similar - I can help using my remote desktop support service. Simply simply send me an email and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. If you have a question in general, you are also welcome to contact me directly.

Got a Computer Question or Problem? Ask Dennis!

I need more computer questions. If you have a computer question -- or even a computer problem that needs fixing - please email me with your question so that I can write more articles like this one. I can't promise I'll respond to all the messages I receive (depending on the volume), but I'll do my best.

About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of Infopackets.com. With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

Rate this article: 
Average: 4.9 (10 votes)

Comments

ecash's picture

NEVER push the button..
Many sites you will see 3rd party adverts, Esp on phones and tablet, when you Download Programs..
THE MAKER doesnt KNOW what is being advertised..

AND IF..
you are NOT sure about whats happening on your computer or Phone or Tablet...SHUT IT OFF COMPLETELY.. And if you have a choice ERASE the history..then it will forget Where you went, and WONT start that site up until you GO there yourself..Again.

Would REALLY love a REPORT button for my AV/Protections..just to CHECK a site..
Some programs are pretty good and give warnings, but that is NOT a report of a BAD SITE..

But as I said, MOST of it is adverts, and funny emails..TELL your friends, to WARN YOU WITH AN EMAIL FIRST, then send the data.. Iv caught a few, and called/emailed/facebook the person and found THEY DIDNT SEND IT..
ALSO read the "TO:" line, who it was sent to..IF there is a LIST...DONT TOUCH it unless you KNOW, FOR SURE..
I dont care if its from your BANK, YOUR credit card corp, OR YOUR CHILDREN..

It takes ME years to TEACH people these problems..BUT they learn them AFTER I have to RECOVER EVERYTHING, and have lost EVERY picture and Audio file and MOVIES on their computer..MORE then 1 time..

BIG WARNING...SAVE YOUR DATA..CD/DVD are good for about 5 years, IF yo9u care for them..
THERE IS ARCHIVAL MEDIA, CD/DVD and its great, and last 10+ years and is abit Expensive.
GET picture, video, Movies, Music, OFF/COPIED off the machine, IF' you want to keep it..

There is NO Perfect protection, and that is EVEN WORSE when you have Children, and other people USING the same computer.

dan400man's picture

wrt #7: I try to keep them on the phone as long as possible. One "Microsoft" tech from India called me and I feigned shock at his report that my PC was infected. He did the old "look for this standard Windows file that has 'viru' (or something) in the name. Sure enough, my PC had it! Dang! I asked him whether I should check the other computers in the house. He said yes and asked how many. I told him that we had 8. He must have been salivating at the prospect. So I asked him if could hold while I go checked. He agreed, so I put the phone down and announced in a loud voice to an empty house, "Hey! My PC is infected. We need to check all of the other PCs!' Every once in awhile, I would call out various pronouncements, and I would pick up the phone to let the "tech" know we were still checking. After all, these virii-laden PCs take forever to boot up! All told, I had him on the line for a good 40 minutes before he finally hung up.

ecash's picture

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vertical_service_code

I havent tried these...but these are the OLD Codes for WIRED phones..
there was a Code for sending UNWANTED CALLS, that went to the Attorney general in your state..AND would only be looked up if there was a LAW SUIT..

I would LOVE these to work..
There are also * numbers for STATE police and local Police calls..weather and Mountain pass reports..

The trick is to send the AG Info on the number you GOT and SENT to them for checking.. THEN(imo) they should be able to track or BLOCK that number range..EASILY..