A Guide to securing Windows XP - IT Security
Why Secure Windows?
The internet has become a dangerous place. New viruses, trojans and spyware threats have hit an un-imaginable figure costing organisations billions of pounds for the mess they leave behind. From stealing confidential information to causing complete system failures, protection from malware threats and hacking has never been more critical. Over 90% of users are using broadband or DSL at home, and have moved on from dial up connection, which means their systems are vulnerable to attack constantly due to an always on broadband connection.
Due to the nature of microsoft operating systems being feature rich, there’s also the downside of security threats and vulnerabilities within the windows operating system. However we can minimise the exposure to hackers and the millions of malicious threats out there.
In this guide I will show you the key steps in ensuring your system is safe and secure. I will be concentrating on the Windows XP operating system in particular. For securing Windows Vista, CLICK HERE
Before we start
If it’s a new computer, do not even bother connecting to the Internet yet. You will be amazed how quick a system can be compromised when it is not fully secure and up to date.
If you already have done so, not to worry, with a good virus and spyware checker we can scan and fix your system, if you have caught anything.
Of course if your system is new, then you may not have anything to back up, but if it is not you may want to back up all your documents, and anything else that’s important. You can back it up on a USB memory stick, a USB hard drive, CD or DVD. You should be doing this anyway. I have known people to have caught a virus which completely damaged their file system. They lost all their work which they did not have a backup for!
Below are two sections, mandatory and optional. Mandatory are the ones you should do in order to have a secure system, and optional is of course optional, if you want to go that little bit further in securing your system.
Before we get into securing the Windows XP operating system we will briefly cover hardware firewall's, as I can not stress how important they are. Without a firewall a user would be leaving them selves open to all sorts of attacks. A firewall is the heart and 1st layer of defence to your home network. A firewall is the key to keeping all the bad guys out of your network, and so it’s for sure worth getting one that does a good job! After reading this article, have a look at my Firewall guide, to get a better understanding, and a guide on which one to get.
A hardware firewall is a dedicated piece of hardware, shaped like a fancy box with ports and lights, that will plug one end into your modem and the other end into your computer/s. From the modem a hardware firewall will monitor internet traffic and take action allowing or dropping traffic according to the rules configured. You may already have a hardware firewall in the form of a router with built in firewall capabilities.
In a nutshell A hardware firewall is something everyone should have. Read my Firewall Guide to see some good recommendations.
You would also want a good firewall on your actual Windows operating system (software firewall). I would only recommend a firewall with outbound scanning as well as inbound. Outbound scanning would ensure if your system has been compromised by a hacker it would stop data from your system getting back to the hacker. This could be critical if its credit card numbers, CV and other confidential data.
You may be thinking why would my system get compromised if I already have a firewall in place? You could catch a virus using a CD, downloading software, visiting a malicious websites. Your firewall will block lots of threats. However if you are asking to download these threats which you may not be aware of as a result of some websites looking completely harmless, then your firewall will accept the connection.
You can use windows firewall, which is free. However it doesn't do a good job, in fact it is poor and only does half the job. The main issue of the Windows built in Firewall is it does not do outbound scanning, which is absolutely essential to have! So if I had to be honest, I would render it as almost useless, although it's better than nothing. A software firewall is just as essential as a hardware firewall, especially if you use your laptop in various places.
I have both hardware firewalls and software firewall, which provides me with an extra layer of security. If you do not have any, I would highly recommend you purchase at least a software firewall.
To ensure your Windows firewall is turned on, Click Start, Control Panel, Network Connections, Right Click Local area Network, then click on the properties link. Select the Advanced tab from the Local Area Connection dialogue and then hit Settings under windows firewall section.
From here you can turn your firewall on. From the below figure you can see my firewall is off. This is because I already have a third party firewall installed. You can not have two firewall's turned on at the same time! They will conflict and can cause future issues.