Let's face it, we're all tightening our belts. I just got my propety tax bill for 2008 and it doubled from last year even though the value of my property has declined. How in the hell is that supposed to happen? Now I'm going over my budget with a fine-toothed comb looking for ways to cut spending. I'm also thinking about opening a bank and then asking the Feds for some bailout money. But I digress.....
In this economy people are eliminating expenses and computer safety tools are sometimes the first to go. I want to use this post to highlight some tools from Microsoft that are
either free or low cost to ensure your computing experience continues to be a safe one.
Let's start with FREE:
Because I work for Microsoft I'm also the helpdesk for my friends and family. The first question I ask when I get the inevitable call for help is "When was the last time you ran Microsoft Update?" and nine times out of 10 the response I get is "What's Microsoft Update?". Microsoft releases new patches the second Tuesday of every month - also know as Patch Tuesday. You can always get the latest updates by visiting http://update.microsoft.com. If you have Microsoft Vista you can access Windows Update (Microsoft Update) from the Start Menu.
Can't remember to check Microsoft Update every month? You don't have to. If you are running Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista or Windows 7 (you better be running Windows 7) you can configure automatic update settings via the Security Center in the Control Panel. At minimum your settings should automatically download updates and notify you to install them.
If you regularly run Microsoft Update then you've already downloaded this tool and your computer was scanned in the background and you probably didn't even notice. The Malicious Software Removal Tool checks computers for infections by specific, prevelant malicious software and helps remove any infection found. When the detection and removal process is complete, the tool displays a report describing the outcome, including which, if any, malicious software was detected and removed. You can download latest version of this tool and scan your computer anytime by clicking here.
MBSA is an easy-to-use tool that helps small and medium businesses determine their security state in accordance with Microsoft security recommendations and offers specific remediation guidance. Improve your security management process by using MBSA to detect common security misconfigurations and missing security updates on your computer systems. You can use MBSA in a work environment, but you can also use it on your home computers.
Windows Defender is Microsoft's free anti-spyware tool. If you have Windows Vista or Windows 7 then it's already installed. If you are still running Windows XP then you can download it here. I'm often asked if it's OK to run more than one anti-spyware product on your computer. The answer is yes. Unlike anti-virus solutions, there is no common definition or method of identifying spyware. Also, there is no common removal process. This is why you sometimes see different results from different anti-spyware products. This does not mean that one tool is necessarily better than the other. It just means the scanning methods are different. Please visit http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/defender/default.mspx to learn more.
Windows SteadyState is a free download for Windows XP and Windows Vista that can help protect your family from inappropriate Web content and contact on the Web. Windows SteadyState also protects your computer settings from unwelcome changes by your children or guests. Windows SteadyState can return your family computer and hard disk to the condition it was before your children (or friends) changed it. Just simply just restart your computer.
The #1 threat to to internet threat safety is phishing scams. Phishing is used by scam artists to lure you to fraudlent websites in an attempt to gain your personal and financial information or trick you into downloading malicious software or both. The Microsoft Phishing Filter is designed to protect you from these types websites by warning you and even blocking access. You can also report suspicious websites to Microsoft for evaluation. There are serveral ways to get this tool:
- Upgrade your browser to Internet Explorer 7 or Internet Explorer 8 for even greater protection with the SmartScreen Filter.
- If you are running Microsoft Office 2003, make sure you have SP2 or higher installed to take advantage of the anti-phishing functionality in Outlook 2003 SP2.
- Anti-phishing functionality is built into Microsoft Office 2007. Learn more here.
- Not running Microsoft Office 2003 or 2007? No problem, just download and install Windows Live Mail for free which uses the same Junk Mail and anti-phishing technology as our commercial products. I personally use Windows Live Mail to access my Hotmail account and I love it.
Windows Live OneCare Safety Scanner is a free service designed to ensure the health of your PC. It will check for and remove viruses and spyware, clean up your hard drive and help improve the performance of your computer. You can run a scan any time you want.
Windows Live Family Safety is a free download that allows you to decide how your family experiences the Internet. You can limit searches, block or allow websites, decide who your children can communicate with when they’re using Windows Live Messenger, Hotmail, or Spaces and monitor what websites they're visiting. You can also manage settings and get reports about all users in your family from any browser by logging into the Windows Live Family Safety website.
the INEXPENSIVE more FREE:
You can protect up to three computers for only $49.95/year with one subscription using this all in one PC safety tool. Not only can you use Windows Live OneCare to protect your computers from viruses and spyware and optimize PC performance, but you can also back up all your systems to one central location. Watch the demo . I also encourage you to download the free trial . Don't spend $49.95, you can get Windows Live OneCare for $29.95 here .
Microsoft Security Essentials provides real-time protection for your home PC that guards against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software. This product replaces Windows Live OneCare.
Microsoft Security Essentials is a free download from Microsoft that is simple to install, easy to use, and always kept up to date so you can be assured your PC is protected by the latest technology. It’s easy to tell if your PC is secure — when you’re green, you’re good. It’s that simple.
Microsoft Security Essentials runs quietly and efficiently in the background so that you are free to use your Windows-based PC the way you want—without interruptions or long computer wait times.
Lastly I'll leave you with some helpful advice, links and other security resources that you can and should take advantage of to ensure a safe computing experience:
- Back up your data on a regular basis! Instructions are here.
- Leverage System Restore to undo changes to your system that cause problems. Functionality between Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 is identical.
- Microsoft Security at Home
- Family Safety Settings in Microsoft Products
- Protect Your Personal Information
- Four Steps to Protect Your Computer
- More Ways to Protect Your Computer