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Q: Securing my laptop ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Securing my laptop
Category: Computers > Security
Asked by: sulafa-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 25 Apr 2004 09:30 PDT
Expires: 25 May 2004 09:30 PDT
Question ID: 335900
I just got a brand new laptop and i would like it secure it from
hackers/virus. I would be using the laptop when i travel so i will be
using wireless networks (Coffee shops/hot spots), and at the hotel
connection in my room. I would like to know what programe/s i will
need in order to do so.

I also have a wireless network at home were a technician did
everything, i am not sure about how secure it is but how could i
secure it? If possible i would like information on the matter
(Securing laptops/desktops).

Thanks in advance
Subject: Re: Securing my laptop
Answered By: aht-ga on 25 Apr 2004 14:42 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

Based on your other question regarding the DVD player software, I will
assume that this new laptop is running Windows XP; please let me know
if your laptop is running some other operating system.

For a person in your situation, where you are travelling a lot, and
using public wireless Internet access through Wi-Fi hotspots, I would
recommend the following, at a minimum:

1. Personal Firewall software
2. Anti-virus software
3. Spam blocking
4. Activating built-in security features of your laptop
5. Keeping your operating system up to date with security patches

I will cover these in the following sections, then address your
question about your home wireless network.


The first level of protection you need, is a firewall that can keep
the bad guys from using your PC's wireless connection to enter your
computer. The way a firewall works is quite simple; any traffic that
wants to enter or leave your computer through a network connection,
must first pass through the firewall. Just like the guards at a border
crossing, the firewall will take a look at the data, and decide (based
on your settings) whether the traffic should be allowed to pass. So,
instead of your computer being wide open to receive unsolicited data
transmissions from anyone who knows the IP address of your machine,
you will only receive the data that you actually want to receive. More
importantly, the better firewall programs out there will also block
any undesired transmissions from leaving your PC. This is important to
prevent any Trojan Horse-type of attacks from 'phoning home' after
they have managed to install themselves on your computer. To make best
use of this capability, though, you need firewall software that is
relatively user-friendly.

One such program, and the one that I recommend most often, is Zone
Alarm. Available in a free version as well as much-more-capable Plus
and Pro versions, this firewall program will let you control exactly
what enters and leaves your computer:

You can also find paid versions of firewalls in several of the
packages that I will be mentioning in the next section on Anti-virus
Software, as several software developers are now marketing all-in-one

To test your firewall, and to learn more about what can happen if you
do not have a firewall in place, I suggest that you visit Gibson
Research Corporation's website and use their free Shields UP! analysis

With this tool, you can analyze the 'Common Ports' on your PC to see
which ones are currently open and therefore scannable by outsiders.
You can also learn a lot more from this website about why having some
ports open can be dangerous to you, and find out how to protect
yourself using firewall programs such as Zone Alarm. You will also be
able to download and use three useful security utilities from GRC to
address specific vulnerabilities in Microsoft's Windows operating
systems. These three are featured on the GRC website:

Shoot The Messenger

The DCOMbobulator

UnPlug n' Pray

Click on each link above to read more about what these programs can do for you.


Naturally, even with a firewall, you will want some form of active
protection to make sure that any data that does make it through the
firewall cannot harm your computer. This is important because most of
the time, viruses and other nefarious programs are invited into your
computer by you yourself, either by opening up an e-mail attachment
that contains a virus, or by downloading a virus from a website.

There are many anti-virus programs available on the market today,
ranging from the well-known brands such as Symantec Antivirus and
McAfee Viruscan, to free products such as AVG and AntiVir. All provide
good protection against known viruses; all have varying success
keeping you up to date whenever a new virus is discovered, and all
depend greatly on you being diligent in getting and using updated
virus signature files.

The best place to start is with a good quality free anti-virus
program, so for this I will suggest that you try either AntiVir or

Anti-Vir Personal Edition 

GriSoft AVG Free Edition

For the vast majority of personal users, either of these packages
(which feature free virus signature updates) will be sufficient.

If you are interested in a paid version, both of these packages are
also available in paid versions with more features. You can also look

Symantec Norton Internet Security 2004

 - note that Norton Internet Security comes with a personal firewall built-in
 - note also that Norton Internet Security virus updates require an
annual subscription

McAfee Internet Security Suite

 - this is similar to Norton Internet Security 2004, containing
anti-virus, firewall, and spam blocking components
 - McAfee also charges an annual subscription fee for virus signature updates

In any case, remember that the anti-virus software is only as good as
the most recent virus signature file update. With new viruses being
released on what seems to be a daily, if not hourly, basis, anti-virus
programs that can be configured to automatically check for updates on
a regular basis is best.


Spam is now a fact of life for any Internet user. If you have an
e-mail address, and if you use that e-mail address, you will receive
spam eventually. To help protect yourself against this, you need to
use spam blocking software. This is important because the majority of
'modern' viruses are being transmitted as seemingly-innocent
attachments to e-mail messages that appear to be coming from
known-good sources. With the combination of anti-virus and spam
blocking software, you will be able to prevent almost all of these
from ever reaching your inbox.

I have already mentioned that both Symantec Norton Internet Security
2004 and McAfee Internet Security Suite include spam blocking
software. For the security beginner, these all-in-one packages
represent the easiest solution to the problem. More experienced users
can experiment with other solutions such as:

FireTrust Mailwasher Pro and Benign

 - Mailwasher helps you customize what mail makes it off your e-mail
provider's server and to your computer
 - Benign reformats the mail that does make it through, to ensure that
there is no maliscious code or attachments

Mailwasher is available in a freeware version if you want to try it out:

There are also other freeware spam blocking solutions that are a lot
harder to use, many of which are listed here:

Your e-mail service provider may also already provide you with spam
blocking capabilities on their mail server. For example, free webmail
providers such as Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail have options that you can
activate to turn on Spam Blocking (referred to as Junk Mail settings
by Hotmail). Corporate e-mail servers very often filter out spam
immediately upon receipt, simply to keep down the workload on the
e-mail servers. Depending on your specific e-mail service, I recommend
that you use the provider's spam blocking services (if any), along
with a local solution such as the ones included in the Norton or
McAfee packages, or the standalone ones from Firetrust.


The previous three sections dealt with keeping the bad guys from
sneaking into your PC through your network connection. However, if you
are always travelling, you may want to consider the need to protect
the information contained on your laptop's harddrive, should your
laptop ever get stolen.

The best approach to take for this is to activate the BIOS password
protection features that every laptop has. You will need to read your
laptop's user guides to find out how to enter the BIOS to do this. The
most important password that you will want to set, is your hard
drive's password. By activating the hard drive's password feature, you
will prevent anyone without that password from being able to power up
and access your hard drive. Even if the hard drive is removed from
your laptop computer and installed into another computer, it cannot be
accessed without the proper password. Of course, please note that if
you do activate any of the BIOS passwords, you will need to use them
every time you power up your laptop, a minor inconvenience.

You will also want to invest in a laptop/notebook computer cable lock,
to help secure the laptop when you need to leave it somewhere for even
a few minutes. This is useful in hotel rooms. Typical cable locks are
shown here:


Hackers and virus-coders all take advantage of security
vulnerabilities in your computer's operating system, and in the
programs that you run on your computer. To reduce the risk, you should
always update your operating system whenever a new security patch is
released. For Microsoft Windows operating systems, this process is
made easier by the Windows Update Wizard, installed by default.
Configure your Windows Update Wizard to automatically check for
updates, and to download them for you automatically (but to ask you
first before installing them). A good illustrated guide to this can be
found here:

This is also a good time to mention the concept of spyware and adware.
These are programs that you knowingly or unknowingly install on your
computer, that compromise your privacy and security. The simplest ones
simply keep track of what websites you are visiting, and upload that
information to a marketing company for use in focusing advertising
that you see. The more dangerous ones can track everything you do,
including what you are typing (such as passwords), and upload that
information to an online site.

To try to stay on top of this, you need to regularly update and run
spyware/adware detecting software such as:

Lavasoft Ad-Aware

Spybot Search and Destroy



Securing your Home Network

Securing a home wireless network is a topic that has become very
popular over the past few years, as wireless networks proliferate in
homes and offices around the world. Therefore, there are actually
several useful online guides that walk you through this, now. One that
I often suggest people start with, is this one:

The only part of that page that I will not suggest for you, is using
VPN; this is really only practical for anyone who has the support of
their company's IT department since it requires a VPN server to
connect to in the first place.

The page also links to another useful guide:,1558,1152933,00.asp

The most important thing to remember with wireless networks, is that
no matter how much encryption you use, it all depends on the secret
keys being hard to guess or decode. So, be smart when choosing your
passwords, change them regularly, and think before downloading and
installing any software onto any computer in your network because once
it is on the 'inside', your security measures will have already been

If you have other computers, either laptops or desktops, in your home
network, take the same precautions that I outlined above in the first
few sections of this Answer. A chain is only as strong as its weakest
link, so invest the time and effort to make sure that the weakest link
is still pretty tough!

This Answer may have raised more questions in your mind, so if you
need me to clarify any part of it, please use the Request Answer
Clarification button above to let me know!


Google Answers Researcher
sulafa-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Good answers, very helpfull.

There are no comments at this time.

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