Prior to our nervous breakdown, err..shut down, we posted an article that caught your attention for safer computing. Back by popular demand, with a few new added programs and stuff for you to use is…
Stuff we use and you should too… Part Deux
VPN’s & Browser Extensions
First and foremost, the most useful tool to use when you’re out and about using someone else’s internet is a VPN (virtual private network). It masks the information you are exchanging over the internet, and encrypts it from someone trying to snoop in on your browsing activities.
While there are tons of free and paid VPN’s out there, and everyone has their special preferences, we use Tunnel Bear, and have for years. It’s quick, simple, and effective. On top of that, it works for all platforms, even Linux. Tunnel Bear has a handy browser extension, which we use when on the go, but for your laptop or mobile device they have the full program available too. There are three versions; two paid, one free. Mostly we use the little bear and tweet about it for a Gig a month, as we don’t get out much. But for those that travel, or do a lot of café surfing, a paid subscription is not too much, and will pay for itself when someone attempts to steal your personal information for nefarious reasons.
As we mentioned in a previous article, we also use Ghostery as a browser extension. Recently, we found a little less annoying and more controllable extention, Privacy Badger. No annoying bubbles here, and this is a little easier to configure and control. It performs the same functions, by blocking unwanted trackers, and pop-ups/unders, but you can whitelist sites and cookies with a quick flick and click.
Why whitelist a site’s cookies and ads? Well, there are some sites out there that earn a living from their ad sponsors. The ads aren’t annoying or in your face, and are primarily geared towards their audience. For instance, we visit and listen to the Twit.tv network religiously. And if we blocked their ads, not only may they not exist for very long, we might miss out some new cool gadget they are promoting. For instance, one sponsor they promote, the Ring Video Doorbell was a brilliant gift idea that we just bought for our families for the holidays. If we blocked all ads we may never have heard of this handy dandy little gadget. Some ads are good, and Privacy Badger allows you to see the ads you want and block the ones you don’t.
We use both services at the same time when using free Wifi, just in case one doesn’t catch something, maybe the other one will. Overkill? Maybe, but it works for us.
Firewalls & Built In Virus Protection:
McAfee, Norton, Kaspersky…Oh My! Which should you try? Which should you buy? …. None! For years people have stood by and attested to Norton and McAfee, my parents being two among them. No matter how hard I try to educated them, I cannot convince that they are just giving their money away, (they are just scared I might hack into their facebook accounts and drain their Bingo “winnings”). And every few months I get the call for help; to scan, wipe, and reformat their systems. These paid virus protection programs are basically a false sense of security.
There is no real “absolute protection” from viruses, hackers, spam, and malware. But that doesn’t mean you have to make it easy for them and have to empty out your wallet in the process. Educate yourself in how these things work, just as you are doing now, and use programs like these instead.
Windows Defender & Firewall
Yes, we know, but trust us on this one. Who better to know what’s going on and what could go wrong with an Operating System than its creators. If you are using Windows, you already have an arsenal against viruses built in. Yes, even Windows 10 has these handy programs. We suggest using Windows Defender, and Windows Firewall. Just adjust a few settings and you can be well on your way to safer computing in seconds. Best of all, it’s free and constantly updated!
If used properly it will do a decent job of keeping your computer from getting bit by major bugs. Keep Windows Defender and Firewall running if your computer is hooked up to the internet; even when not surfing. It will only work if you let it. You can adjust it to run them in the background and only alert you when there is an issue. Other than that you will never know they are there.
If you are running Windows Vista or better, there’s an Easter Egg of sorts hidden deep in the bowls of the Windows OS, called Malicious Software Removal Tool. It won’t detect or remove any malicious programs that are not currently running, but will eliminate those that are. And again, it’s free! To find this program:
Open run or open your command line, and type in mrt.
It may take a moment to open up, as Windows gets a little excited that someone found this. But once it does, run it and let it do its thing.
These programs will do the same if not better job of keeping your computer safe from well-known bugs and junk as the paid services. But it cannot protect your computer from the stupid things you do. That’s why there are other programs to clean up your mess, and you’re your hand when you click on something you shouldn’t, such as these.
If you are still skeptical with just using Windows to protect your system, which we are too, you can choose additional help. We suggest ZoneAlarm Firewall. We’ve been using it since 2000 (yes, 17 years), and stand by it still. Free or paid, you can choose. We use the free version, and it works just fine. It also has Antivirus protection as well. However, if you decide to use the Windows Firewall, these two may collide. This is an alternate suggestion to the Windows firewall, for those skeptical of Microsoft products.
SuperAntiSpyware, still a good program to remove all your tracking cookies, and detect unwanted gunk like Trojans and what not. Again, we use the free version, and haven’t had any issues in the past few years. We typically run a scan on a regular schedule, or when the computer and/or browsers seem a bit sluggish.
Get Tech Savvy With It…
We may have suggested these programs before, but they still work wonders if you know what you’re doing with them. These can be downloaded from Bleeping Computer, but we highly suggest you read and understand what these programs do before you try them out. Don’t just download them thinking it will provide protection, or go find the things making your computer not work. These are a little more sophisticated and require a little more skill than the average user. These are highly effective, and worth keeping on a flash drive for those moments when you get in bind.
If you are aware your system is infected, and cannot get one of your security programs to run to either remove or detect a virus, RKill comes in to save the day. It does not remove infected files or programs, only stops them from running to allow you to run programs like SuperAntiSpyware and Windows Defender. Free Download from Bleeping Computer.
Junkware Removal Tool
This handy tool is useful especially when you download and execute a program and miss that “uncheck box if you wish to not install the ask toolbar”. Junkware Removal Tool gets rid of basic adware, toolbars, and potentially unwanted programs that you may have unknowingly downloaded. Since we download and test programs often, there are times when something may slip through the cracks, and this takes care of the dirty work of removing those nasty little buggers from our browsers. Free Download from Bleeping Computer.
Other Stuff Too…
Just as a side note, this is something we have found that comes in handy when you aren’t on your own computer or laptop. We use these at work, and our IS department is cool with it, as long as we don’t use a VPN to bypass their filters. Grab your flashdrives and put these on there:
Portables: Browsers & Stuff
While most of the programs we use can be placed on a flashdrive and executed on any machine, we primarily use them as extensions or main programs for laptops, pc’s, and browsers. These programs below can be downloaded to a flashdrive and executed on any computer or laptop without having to actually install it on that system.
While Google Chrome doesn’t require administrator access to install, many companies, such as the ones we work for, do not allow you to download or install programs of any kind without permissions. These are the same people that think Internet Explorer and Yahoo! are still perfectly safe to use.
Both these portable versions of Chrome and Firefox allows you to load extensions that you frequently use without having to download the browser or extension to the computer. This way you can still use the browser of choice and your extensions without actually downloading anything to the computer.
Last but not least, this is a handy little program we use to do our coding and writing with. Sometimes notepad just won’t cut it, and Word is not always available. So, we use Notepad ++. Again, pop it on a flashdrive and run it on any computer of choice without having to actually install it.
Have a program or something useful you’d like to add? Then please do share in our comments or create a thread in our forums, Muggles the Gathering.
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