our computer can never be too secure. Part of making Windows XP more like Vista and Windows 7 should be to review its security and make sure you - and your data - is fully protected. The first thing to do is ensure that Automatic Updates are switched on, so the latest critical and security patches are delivered and installed as soon as they’re available.
Click Start, right-click My Computer and choose Properties to open the System Properties Control Panel. Switch to the Automatic Updates tab and make sure the Automatic option is selected.
You can check your PC is fully up to date with the help of a free program called the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer Tool - download it from here and install it on your PC. Once installed, launch the program from its desktop shortcut, give it Internet access if your firewall queries it, and click Scan a computer. Leave the default options as they are and click Start scan.
The scan will take a little time - and during this files will be downloaded and extracted to your hard drive. Once it’s complete, the results will be displayed. If you come across any yellow crosses, you should see a “How to correct this link” - click this to find out how to fix the problem.
Boost your online security
Internet Explorer 8, which ships as part of Windows 7, but is also available as a free update for both XP and Vista - is a quantum leap forward in terms of security and functionality. It has an anti-phishing feature that blocks access to fake web sites, plus an option to browse the web without leaving any traces of where you've been (select InPrivate Browsing from the Safety menu to access it). If you’ve not yet installed it, check Windows Update or download the full installer file from here.
You should also review your computer’s security software. You need one anti-virus tool, one third-party firewall (XP’s own Firewall offers basic protection only) and at least one anti-spyware tool on your PC. An integrated suite like Norton Internet Security (here) or Trend Micro Internet Security Pro 2009 (here) is the simplest way to get this functionality; otherwise, there are plenty of free options available.
Free anti-virus tools are ten-a-penny, but try AVG Free (click here) if you don't have a personal favourite. Add Threatfire (click here) to augment its protection, and install a third-party firewall such as ZoneAlarm (click here). Finally, download and install Microsoft's free anti-spyware tool Windows Defender (click here), which ships as standard on both Windows Vista and 7.
Although you can only install one anti-virus and one firewall tool on your PC, you can install multiple anti-spyware scanners. Whatever protection you currently have, also consider the following two tools: Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (click here) and SUPERAntiSpyware (click here). The free versions provide scanning functionality only, so won’t interfere with existing protection on your PC.
Whatever tools you install, make sure they’re fully up to date (most, with the exception of your firewall, should update themselves on a daily basis). You should also run full system scans with them, and schedule future scans to take place on a weekly basis to catch any nasties that might have sneaked through your defences.
Annotation: Protect your children with Crawler
A. SET TIME LIMITS
You can restrict which hours (in single-hour blocks over a seven-day period) the child is allowed to use the computer or browse the internet.
B. COMPUTER LIMITS
Select this tab to restrict access to programs, folders, drives and system tools. You can also set time limits on the use of specific programs.
C. TRACK USER ACTIVITY
Choose what kind of activity you wish to track for this child’s account, how long the reports should be kept for and what kind of screen shots should be taken.
D. SETTINGS TABS
When you select one of the four tabs at the top, a row of tabs down the left-hand side will appear giving you access to the various options on offer.
E. INTERNET BROWSING LIMITS
This section enables you to block specific web sites, web sites based on content or sites based on the age profile of your child.
F. DISABLE EMAIL
Tick this box to prevent all of your children with Internet Browsing Limits enabled from sending or receiving email using email programs.
Protect your children online
The Internet is a potentially dangerous place for your children, but you can both monitor and control what they get up to on it. If you want to monitor and filter out unsuitable web sites, then check out Crawler Parental Control. This free application – which is no longer developed, but still available for download from here – also lets you set time limits on your children’s web access, plus gives you control over other internet programs like peer-to-peer tools and instant messaging applications such as Windows Live Messenger.
Installation and setup is simple: you’ll need to create an administrator password that only you know, plus provide a secure email address to send an alternate password to in case you forget this one. If your firewall throws up a prompt, make sure Crawler has all the access it needs.
Crawler works in conjunction with Windows user accounts, so if your children are already set up, click Manage User Accounts; otherwise you’ll need to create new user accounts for each child (Crawler can do this for you – click Create a New User Account and follow the wizard).
You can either choose from a basic set of restrictions based on five choices
(Child Only, Young Teen, Mature Teen, Spy Only or Master) using the slider or click Customize to exercise full control over your child’s access.
If you opt to customise your child’s access, four tabs will appear, enabling you to monitor and block access to specific web sites, determine when your child is able to go online, block any program on your PC (including internet-enabled applications) and set up logging for monitoring what your child gets up to.
Encrypt your data
Have you ever considered what might happen if your data fell into the wrong hands? It doesn’t matter if you’re transferring data on a laptop, USB flash drive or DVD - if it gets stolen, you don’t want the thief getting hold of your files or even your personal details.
The solution is to encrypt sensitive data so it can’t be accessed by anyone else but yourself. If you only need to encrypt individual files and folders, install TrueCrypt from the cover disc and follow the step-by-step guide below to set up a hidden file. Once mounted, you can access the drive like any other through My Computer or an Open/Save dialogue box. Check out the beginner’s tutorial when prompted after installation to discover how to work with your new encrypted drive.
If you’d prefer to encrypt your entire hard drive – something for laptop users in particular to consider – then CompuSec provides free software that enables you to encrypt and password-protect your entire drive - even if the drive is taken out and put into another PC, it remains inaccessible without your password.
To encrypt your drive in this way, back up your data before you begin in case something goes wrong, then click here for our step-by-step guide to using it, plus a link to downloading the program.
Encrypt sensitive files and folders
1. FIRST STEPS
After installing and restarting your PC, launch TrueCrypt from the Start > All Programs menu and click the Create Volume button.
2. SET UP CONTAINER
Choose Create a file container, click Next, select Standard TrueCrypt Volume and click Next again. Click Select File, browse to your chosen location, type a name and click Save.
3. SPECIFY FILE SIZE
Leave the default encryption settings as they are and click Next. Make your container large enough to contain all your sensitive files (3000MB is 3GB, for example) and click Next again.
4. ADD PASSWORD
Type a secure password only you know (tick Display password to help see it as you type - assuming no one is watching, of course!) and click Next.
5. FORMAT VOLUME
Select NTFS from the Filesystem drop-down menu and click Format followed by OK and then Exit. Your drive has been created.
6. MOUNT VOLUME
Select the drive letter to use, click Select File and select your encrypted file. Click Mount, enter your password and click OK to access the volume like any other Windows drive.