On Maximum Security

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Absent of proper protection lurking in the digital world is insecure to say the least. If you were to surf the internet without any anti-virus protection, firewall protection or without updated windows it would probably take five to ten minutes to get infected in some way.

All is not lost. With a bit of effort you can be protected. Below I’ll outline my way of protection. The procedures involve partitioning and formatting your hard-drive (HDD) and taking an image of it. If you’ve never been involved in such things and scared to death to try, well, be afraid not. Let’s get started.

Step 1: Preparations

First step is getting rid of everything you have in your hard-drive. No kidding! Why is that necessary? First, you may be already infected in some way. Second these protections will function best with a clean install of windows. By the way, if your HDD has a second partition this first step will be child’s play.

Step 1.1: Backing Up

First, you’ll want to backup all of your important files. Of course, this will vary depending on the user. There are many ways to back-up. The easiest way is to transfer all the files (that you will need) to your other partitions. If you don’t have a second partition then you need to back-up everything to a CD or DVD. The files you may want to consider are listed below (and some you might not have realized you needed).

** My Documents folder (or wherever you keep your documents)

** Any programs or downloaded files that you don’t have on CDs. I’m not talking about the installation files in your “Programs Files” folder, but the setup files to install those programs.

** Your Favorites folder. This folder is typically under C:\Documents and Settings\ercan\Favorites. Replace ercan with your computer’s name.

** Mozilla Firefox (or Opera) bookmarks.

** Any saved computer games you want to keep!

** Any special settings you have for particular programs (the .ini files for WS-FTP is an example – containing all your logins and passwords to FTP sites, the buddy lists in AIM or Yahoo Messngers, etc.)

** Your email if it’s on your hard drive

** Any files created in programs that may have been saved in that particular program’s directory (i.e. Photoshop defaults to save in the Photoshop directory)

** Your drivers. If you’re not sure that you have the necessary discs for all your drivers then back-up for maximum safety. A free utility called “Driver Magician Lite” will do the job for you. 

** Make sure to download and back-up these softwares before you format your HDD.
Mozilla Firefox 2.0
Lavasoft Adaware
Spybot Search and Destroy
A good anti-virus software (If you’re going to use commercial software I recommend (best to least best) NOD32, KAV, F-Secure. Never ever use Norton anti-virus. Your free choices are AVAST and AVG.

Step 1.2: Partitioning and formatting your HDD.

You backed-up all the necessary files (Do check again that you didn’t overlook anything. I promise you that it’s better to lose some time now then to regret later. The way I make sure that I don’t miss anything is to goto my C drive and go each folder one by one).

Caution: Let me remind you once more: If your HDD already has a second partition skip this part. But, you will still do need to format your C:\ partition.

There are many free and commercial utilities to partition and format your HDD. You can make a windows start-up floppy diskette, or you can format and partition while installing windows xp (you need to boot your computer from the installation disc) or you can use free utilities. There are some commercial softwares (like Partition Magic) but I think it’s total waste of money (an insane $69.99) on something you will use at most once or twice a year.

To create start up floppy diskette in Windows XP: Place diskette in the computer. Open My Computer, right click the A: drive and click Format. In the Format window, check Create an MS-DOS startup disk. Click Start. To partition your HDD you need to boot your computer from the start-up floppy diskette you’ve just created (if your computer doesn’t boot from floppy then you’ll need to goto your BIOS settings and re-arrange the start-up options) and use the fdisk command. This site gives an excellent tutorial on how to use that command and partition your HDD accordingly (it does so with an online simulation).

As I said above, you can partition your HDD while installing a fresh copy of Windows XP but I don’t recommend it. It’s somewhat lousy and makes an easy job more complicated than necessary.

My choice is using a third party software for both partitioning and formatting the HDD. There are tons of free utilities but for now I’ll only recommend Partition Logic . You download the free utility, make a start-up CD (of course, you’ll need a CD/DVD burner), and boot your computer from that disc. They provide a good manual, so you won’t have any problems.

Step 1.3: Installing Windows

Partitioned and formatted your HDD? It’s now time to install your windows xp. Make sure that you install either Windows XP SP2 or upgrade to SP2 manually. If you’re still on Windows 98 then you’re playing with fire. Upgrade to Windows XP (or if your hardware configuration is suitable – if you’re using Windows 98, chances are that it’s not – then Windows Vista is also an option when it comes out at the end of January 2007). If you’re on Windows 2000 then do make sure that you’ve SP4 installed.

Step 2: Building a secure system

** Install Mozilla Firefox 2.0, Lavasoft Adaware, Spybot Search and Destroy and NOD 32.

** Go online and update these softwares that you’ve just installed.

** Goto http://windowsupdate.62nds.com/  Follow the instructions and download all the necessary windows updates manually. Do NOT download/install KB905474 (the Windows Genuine Advantage Notification Tool), even if you have a genuine copy of Windows. It’s malicious, phones home, and can’t be easily uninstalled. Why am I suggesting that you update your windows from this site rather then Microsoft’s? Well, Auto update is no longer safe. I’m not allowed to provide the reason but just keep in mind what I say. Turn-off the auto update option and do everything manually as described above.

** Don’t bother to buy/try external firewall software. Never use BlackICE or Zonealarm. Windows built-in firewall does the job fine.

** Don’t use Internet Explorer. It’s unsafe to say the least. If you must, then try IE 7, the new version. An alternative to Mozilla Firefox is Opera.

** Don’t use Microsoft Outlook (or Outlook Express). Use Thunderbird or The Bat! instead (or anything but Outlook).

Step 3: Backing-up the secure system

The steps described to this point will protect you 99% of the time. However, 99% does not mean you’re completely secure and will never be infected. That’s against the nature of things. You do your best to protect your system and others do their best to break it. Simple as that.

We can still fight back. But first, we’ll need a software to take an image of your HDD. Wtf, you ask? Well, these programs I’m talking about makes a 100% exact copy of your HDD (or any partition that you choose – in our case drive C). You then burn that image to a quality DVD (don’t try those cheap DVD-R discs). Then one day if you happen to get infected that your anti-virus program cannot handle or that your HDD stops functioning properly or whatever, you just restore that image and bang!! You’re back to that exact time when you took the image. Nice, heh? Furthermore, it just takes about half an hour.

To take an image of your HDD first you need to obtain the software (wow!!). Again, you have tons of options (for instance Partition Logic has that option). However, the king in this arena is Norton Ghost. There are two versions; Home Edition, Cooperate Edition. Believe me, you don’t need the latter one. Spend sometime in Froogle and you’re sure to find it much cheaper than offered by Symantec. This site provides the best online manual on Norton Ghost. You don’t need a second address. So, obtain the software, goto that site, learn to use the program and take an image of your HDD.

Step 4:Maintaining the secure system

** Scan your HDD with Lavasoft Adaware and Spybot Search and Destroy every week (after updating, of course).

** Goto http://windowsupdate.62nds.com/ and check for updates (typically Microsoft releases new updates every Tuesday.

** Goto http://www.ccleaner.com/ and download ccleaner. CCleaner is a freeware system optimization and privacy tool. It removes unused files from your system – allowing Windows to run faster and freeing up valuable hard disk space. It also cleans traces of your online activities such as your internet history. But the best part is that it’s fast (normally taking less than a second to run) and contains NO Spyware or Adware! I advice running the program at least once a month (once a week is a better option).

And that’s all for now. 

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2 Comments

Filed under Technology, Tips & Tricks

2 responses to “On Maximum Security

  1. This is a very well written and in depth article.

    Keep up the Good Work
    Josh Chandler
    http://www.techilious.wordpress.com

  2. good article, on the topic of security you might find my short bluetooth article intresting as well.

    see
    http://techelecfan.wordpress.com/2006/11/20/always-use-encryption-with-bluetooth/

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