DOWNLOADSHere are most of the free programs I recommend to my clients. They do a very good job of 'locking down' your computer: preventing virus infection, avoiding spyware/adware infestation, and making you stop and think before making changes that could affect your online security. They are all free for home use; all except Avast and WinPatrol are free for business users, as well.
[Note: Most of these links point to the owners' websites, or to sites that know they have permission to redistribute the software. This was easier for me than to read the vendors' licenses to see if I could post the actual programs. The only exceptions are for those programs where I recommend a program that can no longer be found on the Web, or where I recommend an earlier version of a program over its currently-distributed version — and I'll explain why.]
['Nother note: One way the publishers can afford to give away their software is by 'bundling' other programs, for which they are paid when you download and install the additional software. So, as you install, read every page, and know what you're agreeing to. Don't install a new browser if you're not really going to switch to it, and for goodness' sake, don't install ANY toolbars or desktop icons. 'Nuff said? Okay, let's proceed...]
Click on the Registry Repairs (hacks), one at a time. Next, download and install all the programs in the Security and Utilities sections of this page, plus the Gibson utilities that apply to your operating system. Finally, download and install the appropriate firewall for your version of Windows.
Registry RepairsLet me be completely blunt here: I found these three Registry fixes on the Internet. I didn't make note of where each came from. I edited one of them to some extent, the other two are unchanged; the original work was someone else's — and I can't even tell you their name. Don't you just love the Internet?
(Note: If your browser won't run these files across your Internet connection, right-click, save them to your desktop, and run them from there.)
1. Remove all IE restrictions, including Toolbar restrictions : Sometimes, spyware or adware will 'lock' Internet Explorer so as to make it more difficult for the user to reverse any unwanted changes. This fix simply 'unlocks' IE.
2. Reset Search Hooks in Internet Explorer : If spyware has hijacked your Search engine and/or home page, this is step one toward getting back in control. Sets search engine and home page to Google.
3. Anti-Hijacking : Sometimes, after your browser or search engine has been hijacked, and you've run a cleanup utility to repair them, the fix causes your browser or search engine to stop working altogether! (The infested files had been too badly damaged to allow repair — it's the fault of the spyware, not the repair utility.) This fix just might put everything right; it resets all the pertinent IE settings so they don't go looking for the broken files.
[If you're not sure whether you have 32- or 64-bit Windows, open CONTROL PANEL » SYSTEM. In the SYSTEM section, mid-page, just below the description of the installed processor and memory, it will either say "32-bit Operating System," "64-bit Operating System," or the version won't be specified at all... in which case, you have a 32-bit version of Windows.]
Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 come with Windows Defender, a beefed-up version of Microsoft Security Essentials... you don't need any other anti-virus software
Windows 7 includes Windows Defender, but this version isn't a fully functional anti-virus; you'll need to download and install Microsft Security Essentials. And since you'll be installinig WinPatrol (below), Win 7 users can safely disable Windows Defender, if they like.
Windows XP and Vista are no longer supported by Microsoft, at all... and that includes definition updates for Microsoft Security Essentials installed on those systems; so, you'll need to choose between Avast! , AVG , and IOBit Malware Fighter .
WinPatrol : watches the Windows Registry and all your startup files, and warns you about changes. It keeps spyware from installing itself as a new startup item.
UtilitiesAdvanced System Care Free Edition : selectively cleans up temporary files, Internet cache, cookies, browsing and computing history, old programs, and even checks for bogus entries in the Windows Registry.
Smart Defrag : The best free defragger I've seen.
CCleaner ... does almost everything Advanced System Care can do, and one thing it doesn't: it can wipe old System Restore Points, freeing up gigabytes of wasted hard drive space.
Monthly Maintenance : After you've downloaded and installed Advanced System Care and CCleaner, click this link to download a folder containing links to both programs and simple instructions to keep your computer safe and fast. Once you've downloaded the zipfile, extract the Monthly Maintenance folder to your desktop; open the folder, and delete the two icons you don't need... it will be obvious which two.
If you want the Start Menu in Windows 8 or 8.1 to behave like it did in Windows 7, you'll need Startmenu 8 .
Zip FilesEvery version of Windows since Windows Millenium has included built-in handling of zipped files; Win 98 required a third-party solution. Most Win 98 users opted for WinZip, a shareware utility. I didn't like WinZip that much, primarily because it made you lie every time you used it — you had to click a button promising to mail a check, when you knew very well you weren't ever going to pay for the software.
If all you need to do is add zipfile capability to Win 95 or 98, I recommend ZipCentral 4.01. It's free, small, fast, and powerful.
And for lots more options, more compressed file types, creating self-extracting archives, etc., check out 7-Zip. It works with all versions of Windows from Win 98 thru Windows 7 — but NOT Win 95 — and has even been ported to Linux.
Steve Gibson's Free UtilitiesThe author of SpinRite and ShieldsUp!! has created several free utilities to detect and repair security weaknesses in Microsoft Windows 98, ME, 2000, and XP. Here's a link to his Freeware page.
On every computer I service, I run:
the DCOMbobulator : turns off DCOM, Microsoft's dangerous remote control program that lets Internet users into your computer.
SocketToMe : checks for full 'raw' sockets, another dangerous back door into Internet-connected PCs.
MouseTrap : believe it or not, this program checks your computer for 'MICE': Metafile Image Code Execution vulnerability.
If the machine is running Win2000 or XP, I also run:
Shoot the Messenger and turn off Windows' Messenger Service (this isn't MSN Instant Messaenger, but a background network message transfer system the average home user just doesn't need).
XPdite : looks at the system and determines if it has at least XP Service Pack 1 installed. If not, XPdite replaces a single vulnerable file in the Windows Help Center.
UnPlug'nPray and turn off Universal Plug 'n Play. If you get an error or warning about needing Administrator privileges to run this program, just download (Save) it to your desktop, right-click it, and left-click RUN AS ADMINISTRATOR.
If SocketToMe finds that full raw sockets are available, you'll need to run SocketLock to close them, then run SocketToMe again to prove the point.
If MouseTrap says you're vulnerable — "This Computer Has Mice!" —- you need to go to the Windows Update page, scan for updates, and download and install every critical update found. ...Which is something you should be doing every week, anyhow.
And here's a slight digression: I'm talking mostly about security here, but Gibson's WIZMO program is perfect for those newer computers that won't let you close the CD from the front-panel button (because the button is hidden when the CD drawer is open). Save Wizmo.exe to your Windows folder, then create a shortcut on the desktop with the command line WIZMO CLOSE=D: to close drive D: with a double-click. Make that command line WIZMO QUIET CLOSE=D: if you don't want to hear the trademark 'Gibson sigh' sound effect. (Some people will enjoy this sound more than others.) Wizmo can also open CD drawers, blank the screen, or make the whole screen a user-selected color (I call this the 'night-light' mode), and do a better job of shutdown, restart, and logoff on Win 9x computers than the built-in commands from Microsoft.
All of these programs are small, fast, powerful, safe, and not memory-resident — meaning they don't hang around to slow you down once they've done their work.
Firewall ProtectionIf you're running Windows, you need a firewall. Period. If you have a router, it may have a hardware fiewall built in; you still need a software firewall. Don't argue with me on this, I know what I'm talking about.
Before continuing this thread, I have to add... Even if you don't ever intend to go wireless or add visitors to your network, YOU NEED A ROUTER! The hardware firewall built into almost all routers will go a long way toward keeping Internet malware from trying to attack you. And if you shop Newegg , you can pick one up for $20 or $30.
Windows XP had a firewall built in from the very first, but it was disabled by default, until Service Pack 1... which is now outdated. If you are running Windows XP, please download and install Service Pack 2 immediately. Windows XP SP 2 has a firewall built in, and enabled by default. (Sorry, I still don't recommend Windows XP Service Pack 3; I've seen it slow several older computers to a crawl, and refuse to boot after loading on at least one of my clients' computers.)
Last ResortsIf all else fails, if you can't get on the Internet, you've used every tool above and don't know what else to do, here's a couple of command-line fixes that might get you back up and running. If you don't think to save them now, you can come back to this page from another computer, write down these commands, and go back to your computer to run them.
These commands can be run from the command line, or they can be typed into a shortcut and run from the Windows desktop.
The Command Line : at your desktop, click on Start » Run » type the word CMD (COMMAND if you're running Windows 9x), and click OK. After you've run your commands, type EXIT and press ENTER to return to Windows.
Reset Your Internet Connection: create a desktop shortcut, and put the following text in it.
And if you can draw an IP address from your router or ISP, but you can't 'surf' using a browser, it may help to reset your Windows Sockets:
Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom of the page — I know I tend to 'run long'.
And my warmest thanks to the people who write such wonderful free software. Please don't abuse their generosity; if you don't qualify for free use, please mail the authors a check — they always make sure to include a mailing address somewhere in their documentation.
If I can be of any further help, or offer advice on any computer-related subject, please
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