3 Simple Steps to Securing Your Windows 7 PC, Painlessly

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Embracing a Windows 7 desktop

Windows security isn’t easy: I cringe every time I see a fellow Windows user struggling with complicated security setups involving several programs and manual scans. Computers exist to serve us and make our lives easier — securing a typical home or work PC doesn’t have to be a hassle.

Install a Basic, Free Antivirus

Antivirus companies want to sell you a paid product with all the bells and whistles, but you likely don’t need all of those features: All you need is basic antivirus protection that automatically scans your PC.

Free antivirus products provide the same powerful antivirus engines found in their paid counterparts. These include AVG, Avast, Avira and BitDefender. Microsoft also offers its own Microsoft Security Essentials, which is the same as the built-in Windows Defender on Windows 8. It’s nice and lightweight, but its test results are a bit less impressive. Microsoft’s antivirus works well if you know what you’re doing and need some extra protection, but other products detect more malware.

Install the antivirus, ensure it’s set up for automatic scanning and automatic updates — those are the default settings — and forget it. It will do its job in the background. If you encounter malware, the antivirus pops up a message to warn you.

Use Automatic Updates

Keep your computer up-to-date with the latest updates. Open Windows Update in the Control Panel and ensure it’s set to automatically update. Your computer then installs these updates without you having to think about them. If you’d like more control, set Windows Update to notify you instead and install the updates when you receive the notifications.

Ensure your browser is set to automatically update, too. Internet Explorer updates through Windows Update, Google Chrome always automatically updates and Firefox’s automatic update setting can be controlled. Click Firefox’s menu button, click “Options,” and navigate to Advanced, then Update to verify that Firefox is set to automatically install updates.

Browser plug-ins are a significant source of security problems, so having the latest versions is essential. First, visit the Mozilla Plugin Check page in your browser to scan your installed add-on versions — yes, this site is made by Mozilla, but it will work in any browser.

If you see an out-of-date plugin, update it — or remove it, if you don’t need it. If you have an old version of Flash or Adobe Reader installed, install the latest version of Flash or Reader from Adobe and it will set itself to update automatically, saving you time.

Most people have the Java plug-in installed even if they don’t need it. Uninstall Java from the Control Panel to improve your security. If you’re not sure whether you need it, uninstall it anyway — if you do actually need it, you’ll be prompted to reinstall it later.

Mozilla's plug-in check web page.

Stay Safe Online

Practice good computer hygiene skills. For example, don’t visit illicit file-download websites and download pirated software. Don’t download and run any programs attached to emails. Your antivirus isn’t perfect and won’t catch everything, so you still want to avoid dangerous files as much as possible.

Leave the Windows Firewall and User Account Control (UAC) enabled in Windows, too. These security features help keep your computer secure.

No security software can protect you from other types of attacks, like phishing. If you receive a suspicious email, don’t fall for it. Don’t click links in suspicious emails or give away sensitive personal information. Even smartphone and tablet users can fall for these types of attacks.

Image Credit: mendhak, Chris Hoffman

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