How much PC security will I really need?
February 13, 2010 3:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to receive a desktop computer (Windows 7 Pro) that I am going to use *solely* for playing an online game. Do I need any additional security or virus protection programs aside from what comes with Windows 7?

I'm a Mac person and fairly comfortable with managing security for my network with MacOS, but I'm not very familiar with PC security aside from OMG YOUR COMPUTER WILL BE PROBED AND INFECTED WITHIN 2 MINUTES OF GOING ONLINE THE FIRST TIME!!!111

This is going to be a dedicated gaming rig, initially for LoTRO. I plan to be pretty careful -- I won't put any "personal" info on the machine at all: no email accounts, no documents, no web browsing aside from what I need to do to get software updates. The PC will be connected to a network with other Macs, though, and depending how I set things up, may have to join over a wireless network with WPA. I might also install other game apps (such as WoW with authenticator) in the future.

My specific questions are these (but please tell me what I'm missing):

1) Is the Windows 7 built-in firewall sufficient to protect the computer from bad things (assuming fairly good security discipline practices)?
2) I *will* have to run a browser for Windows and game software updates -- is cranking IE's security settings to the max enough?
3) Do I need to change any settings on my Time Capsule wireless router?
4) Do I need to change any settings on my other Macs to protect my them?
5) Should I set up a special segregated network for this PC so that it can't see or get to the other Macs? (Bonus points if you can find me instructions.)

Please forgive me if I sound a little paranoid, but I just don't want to be that person who comes home one day to find her network merrily hawking herb@l V1@gr4.
posted by woot to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You should be fine with Microsoft Security Essentials. It's pretty good free antivirus software. If your home network is behind a router, you're really not going to use the browser for anything but updates, and you're really not going to use the PC for anything but LoTRO, you'd probably be fine without it. But it will take 5 minutes to install, it won't cost you anything, and it will give you some relief from worry, so why not? The insta-hacked windows machine thing refers to unpatched PCs with no firewall/router between them and the internet, BTW .
The other stuff you ask about is similarly overkill. You may have to open a port or two on your router to let the game through, but that's all.
If you really want to try 5 (FWIW, I don't recommend it), your router almost certainly has a fairly simple DMZ option that would put it outside your macs' network (and outside the router's firewall, which is why I don't recommend it).
posted by willpie at 4:07 AM on February 13, 2010

I'd use Firefox or Chrome instead of IE - but that's mostly just because I think it's a crappy browser.
posted by Xany at 5:49 AM on February 13, 2010

Seconding MSE. Every once in a rare while Microsoft manages to make a product that is superior to its competitors in every dimension: it is effective, exceedingly low in its demands on the system, and free. By contrast, the commercial products (e.g. Norton, MacAffe, etc.) act as if the sole purpose for owning a computer is to run anti-virus software and have debilitating effects on system performance overall.

Reviews which aren't written by businesses with strong financial dependence upon the commercial products (e.g. PCMag, cNet) are quite favorable. My personal experience with MSE on a dozen or so machines bears out its superior detection and resource lightness.

In general, I despise Microsoft for how grossly they dominate the industry through foul means, but MSE does indeed raise the bar for their competitors. I suspect that after taking a sound beating by Apple as the "Operating System that Gives You Cooties", they found it essential to work to dispel that image through a good product and not mere marketing.
posted by fydfyd at 5:58 AM on February 13, 2010

Best answer: Simple yet powerful PC maintenance tips. There are two of them.

1) download Avast, probably the best free antivirus software. It runs constantly but takes very little resources and updates automatically.

2) download CCleaner, a free cleaner program. Run it manually, regularly (at least once a week). It deletes cache, clears history, and other functions. The first time I ran it it cleaned up 700mb worth of useless junk clogging up my system. It also has a handy registration fixer.

That's a very good first two steps.
posted by carlh at 6:01 AM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't need an antivirus or security software package in general. If you use a non-IE browser and don't download random exe files from shady sites, you should have no virus problems. The other potential source of viruses is from external attacks on a vulnerable windows service , and if you're behind a router, you don't really have to worry about that.
posted by demiurge at 6:46 AM on February 13, 2010

I'm just here to nth Microsoft Security Essentials. Especially if you really don't plan to do anything on the machine besides game. You'll be fine.
posted by asciident at 7:34 AM on February 13, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you so much!
posted by woot at 9:06 AM on February 13, 2010

MSE is great, I too am a fan (and I clean these buggers for a living).

You don't need to use IE to get Windows updates, it's handled in the OS/control panel. If you're looking for game updates or a quick browse, download Firefox or Chrome and set it as the default browser. That's much safer than IE even if IE is tightened all the way down.
posted by disclaimer at 9:09 AM on February 13, 2010

I say use MSE and keep it updated. Other than that, don't bother with anything else it you only use it for online games. Maybe run CCleaner after you've done a lot of uninstallations to clean the registry. Don't bother with a paid AV, as many are bloated, and you'll just have to pay to resubscribe in a year.

You might as well install Firefox or Chrome for downloading patches, since they're less likely to have vulnerabilities than IE, if only because they're less popular and don't have ActiveX (not trying to start a browser fight). Their default settings are perfectly secure.

Also, keep UAE, the thing that prompts you every time you install something, enabled. People gripe about it, but it keeps viruses from installing themselves like they did on XP and it's not too annoying once everything's set up.
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:42 AM on February 13, 2010

Yep, there are some great free options out there that should take care of updating and whatever so you really have to do nothing.

But really, don't worry. I've used windows all my life (can't stand macs, have tried plenty), spent a good chunk of that time w/o antivirus, watched streaming video on some shadier sites, and downloaded programs from semi trustworthy sources, and nothing has ever happened or come up in the virus scans.

Windows is more vulnerable, but a shockingly high percentage of windows users probably never get a virus. It's not like running windows automatically makes you infected.
posted by R a c h e l at 7:01 PM on February 13, 2010

Best answer: I'd also recommend setting up a user account which you remain logged into most of the time, rather than just staying in the admin account. Vista and 7 make this easy for you to do - prompting you for the admin password any time you try to do something that requires administrator privileges, so you don't have to log out and log in as admin to take care of it.

Both accounts should have strong passwords.
posted by clerestory at 8:08 AM on February 14, 2010

Just wanted to point out that browser vulnerabilities are only an issue when you visit sites that try to exploit those vulnerabilities. Even if you're using an old unpatched copy of IE6 (ugh!), as long you are only visiting the official sites/servers of a reputable online game, and you trust that the makers of that game aren't trying to hack you, then you have nothing to worry about when it comes to browsing.

There have occasionally been exploits in Windows and Windows software that allow people to attack you directly without you having deliberately visited them first. The chances of this sort of thing are higher if you are directly connected to the internet (as opposed to having a shared IP through a router or gateway device of some kind). However, as long as your copy of Windows and any software you're using is up to date with the latest security patches, the chances of falling victim to this type of attack are extremely small. Just make sure to run Windows Update until there are no critical updates left to download.

I've cleaned viruses and spyware off of many many Windows computers over the years. Based on what I've seen, by far the #1 cause of these infections has been people deliberately downloading dangerous or malicious programs without realizing what they are. Do your research before clicking on any download links. Don't assume software is safe. Google "[program name] contains (spyware OR malware OR virus OR trojan)" and see what comes up. Don't allow unrecognized plugins or add-ons to run. Don't install any browser toolbars. Don't automatically click "yes" or "ok" to any dialog box you don't understand. These are good rules for Mac users to follow as well. Despite what you may think, your computer's not invulnerable either. Targeted less frequently, yes. But not invulnerable.
posted by Vorteks at 8:41 AM on February 17, 2010

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