• Computer upgrades on the cheap, an update

    A friend asked for some help with his aging computer so I just reread my old post “Computer Upgrades on the Cheap.” It’s all still good advice, as far as I know, but there are two things I wrote that are no longer true.

    First, I don’t use any continuously-running antivirus/antispyware software anymore. None. I have turned on the Windows Firewall and am behind a firewall-enabled router. Otherwise, I’ve been “going naked” for a long time and and not noticed any problems. I’m really pleased not to be paying for bloated, system-slowing anti-malware programs. As I wrote in my old post, there are good free options out there. Still, they do slow things down. I didn’t really like them.

    I would not have had the courage to run my machines without protection if it hadn’t been for the advice of someone far more IT-savvy than I am. I now agree with him that it isn’t necessary to run anti-malware software all the time. That may be the most conservative thing to do, but one can be sufficiently protected using other means: being careful how you use the web and e-mail and backing up your files. It is also worth emphasizing that Norton did not protect me from getting a computer virus, twice. It sucks. Really. It’s worse than nothing in my experience.

    All my stuff is safely backed up. I do run the free version of Malwarebytes to purge my computers of any malware. When I run it, I usually find nothing or a few relatively harmless things.

    The other thing I wrote that is no long true is that I don’t use Firefox anymore. Mozilla blew it, so I switched to Chrome and I’m happier for it.

    UPDATE: When I originally posted this I forgot that I had turned on the Windows Firewall.

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    • First, I don’t use any continuously-running antivirus/antispyware software anymore. None. Nor do I use a software firewall. (Hardware, yes. I’m behind a firewall-enabled router.) I’ve been “going naked” for a long time and and not noticed any problems

      I use the free AVG virus scanner combined with the Windows 7 firewall. There’s no slow-down at all, to the best of my knowledge (I surfed the web a bit before installing free AVG). I disabled all of the “automatic updates” stuff on AVG, so it only updates and scans manually.

      As long as you’re fairly smart (i.e., you don’t open phishing e-mails or run off to the bad corner of the Internet) and not grotesquely unlucky, you’ll be fine.

      I definitely approve of ditching Norton. I had it for five years, and it was a total slow-down. Even worse, it was erratic about it, so you’d be watching some video when Norton decides it needs to do something, and suddenly everything goes crazy slow.

      The other thing I wrote that is no long true is that I don’t use Firefox anymore. Mozilla blew it, so I switched to Chrome and I’m happier for it.

      Have you tried using the Firefox 4.0 beta? I’ve been using it, and haven’t touched Firefox 3.Whatever in months.

      I’ve been meaning to install Chrome, but haven’t gotten around to it.

      • @Brett – I didn’t go so far as to say that the anti-virus/firewall software industry is a scam. That would be going too far because maybe some people need it, given their habits or lack of savvy. Still, so many people needlessly suffer very slow computing for no reason. And, as I wrote, I had Norton running, had paid for it for years, and still got slammed. It’s total crap.

        I’m not going back to Firefox. They really blew it. (Did you follow my link?) Chrome takes some adjustment, which I’ve made. Now I’m too deep to try something else. No need.

    • Microsoft’s Security Essentials is a good product for XP class machines. Virus checking software upgrades are causing problems with XP class machines. Recently I removed McAfee from several machinces at work and replaced it with Security Essentials. McAfee’s most recent upgrade made the web browser unusable on these older machines. I saw a similar problem with Norton on a non-profit computer I was asked to fix.

      Most of the time when people approach me about computer upgrades ideas it is because their existing computer is having either hardware or software problems. Accessing the Internet using Windows XP is working for them most of the time and they really don’t have an application other than the Internet. In this scenario the cheapest upgrades are blowing out the dust with an air can and cleaning up the disk space. Over heated CPUs and power supplies are a typical problem. For some intermittent problems replacing the power supply or disk drive will fix the problem and are cost effective. If you are planning to spend more than $100, you are probably better served by replacing the box with a tablet, smart phone, or low cost laptop.

    • Unfortunately, if you use Windows software you are always at risk of malware infection and you probably won’t know you are infected. There are many routes of infection that can bypass software and hardware firewalls and won’t be detected by any anti-virus software.
      It is really dangerous to use Windows. You should switch to Mac of Linux which do not have malware infections circulating in the wild.

    • I didn’t go so far as to say that the anti-virus/firewall software industry is a scam.

      I don’t think it’s a scam, just that that software tends to seriously slow down your computer if you don’t do some serious fine-tuning. I do think the commercial grade stuff is necessary if virus threats really are a serious risk to your system (although I wouldn’t use Norton), but for your average person who isn’t constantly spending time in the darknet, and who deletes phishing e-mails, you don’t need it.

      I’m not going back to Firefox. They really blew it. (Did you follow my link?)

      I did, which is why I suggested you try Firefox 4.0 beta. I’m not suggesting you jump back over – in fact, I’m using Chrome right now, because Firefox is still iffy on supporting HTML5 (although I think the 4.0 beta does it).

      Recently I removed McAfee from several machinces at work and replaced it with Security Essentials.

      The best part of Security Essentials is that you get it free with a legit copy of Windows. You don’t have to pay $50/year or what not to renew your Symantec subscription.

      It is really dangerous to use Windows

      It’s not as dangerous as it used to be, before Windows 7. The earlier versions of Windows had some major problems (particularly Windows 95,), but the Windows firewall has been pretty decent since at least Windows XP Service Pack 3.

      As for Mac or Linux, they most certainly do have viruses. They’re just less common because not nearly as many people operate Mac or Linus OS (and many of the people using a Mac run Windows on it).

    • Just to correct a few misstatements:
      – According to security researchers, Windows 7 is vulnerable to about 80% of the Windows XP viruses (which is tens of thousands of viruses) so don’t think that you are safe on Windows 7
      – There are no Mac or Linux viruses actively circulating in the wild so your chances of being infected on Mac or Linux is effectively zero.

    • Just use Avast anti-virus … it’s free and one of the best out there.

      Also, you should use a software firewall in conjunction with a hardware firwall. Hardware firewalls protect threats coming in. Software firewalls protect threats going out. Just use Windows Defender.

      I like Chrome

      • @Rich – I actually wasn’t accurate in the post, because I forgot. I have turned on the Windows Firewall in the security settings. I did it so long ago I didn’t remember.

    • 1. Linux is a great way to make an old computer faster.
      2. VMware is the best safes way to prevent viruses.

    • If you must use Windows for some reason, then it would be best to do all of your online activities in a virtual machine running Linux. This will protect your Windows installation from the malware on the Internet (but not against malware brought in by USB memory sticks).
      VMware and VirtualBox are both good virtual machines and it is relatively easy to set up Linux in either (but it will take about an hour and requires some technical competence). Most versions of Linux such as Ubuntu come with Firefox and you can also install Chrome if you prefer.
      Of course, in the same amount of time you could just install Linux as the primary OS and have better security. If you need to run some Windows programs, you can install Windows in a virtual machine (just don’t access the Internet from Windows).
      Linux is a more efficient OS and will run effectively on older computer hardware as well as newer machines.