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How to stop spying, adware, malware and ransomware
by  Doug Carner   (Published May 2019, all rights reserved)

Anyone can use free software to attack any computer system without writing a single line of programming code. Newer automated attacks locate victims at random without discriminating between home and mission critical computers, and often without the victims ever being aware of the threat...until it is to late.

One only needs to search the internet for "Ransomware", "Spyware attack", or "webcam spying" to truly appreciate the frequency and gravity of such attacks. Cities and major corporations have fallen prey, but you don’t have to be next.

I provide audio and video enhancement and authentication. While my lab goes to extensive lengths to secure our network, there are some simple and free solutions that anyone can implement. While no solution can ever be 100% secure, it only takes a few minutes to get close to that goal. Following any of this advice is to be done at your own risk, and assumes a high degree of comfort installing and configuring software on a Windows computer.
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First, you will need good antivirus software to serve as a critical line of defense. If you already like your antivirus protection, then there is no need to change vendors. If you are looking for free antivirus protection, then I recommend AVAST (else Malwarebytes). NOTE: Running two antivirus programs on the same computer can cause computer crashes and performance reduction.
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Antivirus programs rarely gain the ability to stop new spyware or ransomware attacks until after other computers have fallen victim, and such attacks are originating from an ever evolving list of web addresses. Your internet modem likely provides basic firewall protection to intercept some attacks, but this can be exponentially improved by installing firewall software.

The Peerblock firewall blocks inbound and outbound traffic with an ever updating list of threatening web addresses. While Peerblock is free, to maximize protection one must subscribe to i-blocklist, and then add their subscription lists (including advertisers) into Peerblock. Peerblock must be manually launched each time Windows is restarted.
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The Zonealarm firewall works by trapping suspicious inbound and outbound traffic. This firewall method eliminates the need for updated lists or subscriptions, but does require the user to teach the software which activity is to be permitted. Software settings (and the default “Express” installation option) let the user increase software automation, while still providing good security. NOTE: Some users have experienced reduced computer performance when using Peerblock and Zonealarm together.

To prevent and remove adware/malware, and prevent unauthorized changes to your Window’s registry, I highly recommend installing Spybot (Adwcleaner is my second choice). Some other tools to consider are: Sandbox software (e.g. Sandboxie) to temporarily install software without actually exposing it to your computer, a laptop webcam cover (e.g. this) to prevent hacker's from gaining access, and a Kensington lock (e.g. this) to prevent physical theft using your laptop's built-in port. Now might also be a good time to remove unwanted applications (search your PC for "Add or remove programs"), and remnant or harmful registry links (ccleaner or Wise).

Mission critical computers are isolated from the internet, but even that can't eliminate the risk of data loss or destruction. Humans make mistakes and systems eventually fail, so everyone needs the mundane routine of regular updates and backups. At the very least, use your computer’s search feature to locate “create a restore point”, and then create a new restore point weekly. Each day, update your antivirus software and also backup your files to a cloud backup service (e.g. iDrive) and removable drive (e.g. this) kept off-site or in a fireproof safe. Most backup resources include software to only update what has changed, thus making the process quick and easy. Keeping frequent redundant backups may seem frivolous and paranoid, until the day your computer becomes corrupt or your hard drive fails.

Using a Windows log-on password might deter the amateur thief, but it is easy to bypass. So, to prevent others from accessing your files, consider encrypting an entire drive or partition (veracrypt or BitLocker), and / or specific files on demand (AxCrypt or 7zip).
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You also may want to review what Microsoft can do with your data by holding down the Windows logo key on your keyboard and then touching the letter “I” to open your settings. Then choose the “Privacy” option and review all of the tabs and settings to disable everything that you do not need to share.

While on the topic of privacy, if you want anonymity while online, then consider using the free Tor browser and a Virtual Private Network VPN to keep your web habits private. Using a VPN (e.g. SurfShark or PIA) prevents your personal information from being captured while using public Wi-Fi. Internet service providers (ISP) can legally monitor your data, and degrade your speed when you use a VPN. SurfShark VPN solves this by using OpenVPN-UDP to be invisible to your ISP, and they routinely have deep pricing promotions. Most VPNs also include a Kill Switch that prevents internet usage until a secure connection has been established.

For those who put their life on social media (e.g. Facebook), just keep in mind that others can mine that data to answer the “challenge” questions used for the banking or email’s “forgot password” website feature. Once thieves reset those passwords, they can steal money and prevent the account holder from receiving notifications until it’s far too late. As such, consider appending all your challenge question answers to always begin or end with a consistent added alphanumeric key phrase you will never forget (e.g. "L3afbl0wer"). Also, whenever offered, activate a website's two-step verification process.

Websites that store financial, shopping or other personal information usually require a log-in password. Rather than re-using the same vulnerable password, keeping passwords on paper, or using your browser's weak password security, you can entrust this task to software. KeePass is a cost-free, ad-free, and maintains unique website passwords within an encrypted file that safely and exclusively resides within your control.

The preceding steps provide a simple, yet nearly impenetrable, layer of security to your data. Obviously, there are additional security steps that you can do, but the foregoing tips are free (or inexpensive), effective, and non-intrusive. I want you to be safe. Click HERE to learn more about my lucrative career path or HERE to get training or certification.

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