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12 features to look for when buying security software

How to secure any PC


You have PC or laptop and you have faithfully installed antivirus, antispyware and a firewall. What other security software should you install, and do you know what you have is any good? Here we continue our guide to what to look for when choosing security software.

Security software: Protecting you from you

7. Antispam, phishing and email protection. Spam isn't just annoying, it's potentially very expensive indeed. And the havoc it spreads is exponential, potentially affecting everyone in your inbox. The weakest part of any security setup is you. It doesn't matter how carefully you build your PC protection from the outside, nothing will keep you safe if you invite cybercriminals on to your PC via email.

Email spam can take many forms, from adverts for dodgy pills and services, through phishing expeditions and poisoned links, to messages that masquerade as helpful tips or jokes, but are principally a means of spreading malware. And the people who spread such filth are getting more clever every day, creating seemingly plausible messages that are able to hoodwink even the most wary user. It's reaching the stage where anyone can be fooled, so some form of email protection is critical. Look for the ability to check links and files in emails, and a robust antispam function.

Importance: 4/5

8. Parental control, usage rules. Other functions that, like email protection, save you from yourself. Good parental controls will block inappropriate content, restrict web access between certain hours, and help parents remotely monitor their children's online activity. More importantly, it should be simple to do so, and difficult for your more tech-savvy kids to hack in and reverse the rules. It's also worth looking for usage rules on a broader level: the best security software will allow you to set rules that can be disobeyed only by an administrator.

Importance: 3/5

9. Social networking protection. Ask PC users in most households what they use their computer for, and the answer will usually include the words 'iPlayer' and 'Facebook'. All modern security software should provide social-media protection.

The best security software protects you and your friends from e-threats that attempt to exploit the trust you've built with them over social networks. After all, you never really know who's on the other side of an online relationship. Such software works by filtering the links you receive from your Facebook and Twitter friends, and monitoring your privacy settings to ensure that you aren't giving away too much in the rush to be social.

Importance: 4/5

10. Safer search and surfing. Because you don't always want to use a virtualised browser, it's worth looking for general protection when you're out and about on the open internet. Good security software gives advance warning of risky websites in your search results. Tools such as McAfee SiteAdvisor and Web Of Trust also block sites as you click dodgy links, and send warnings of potentially dangerous territory as you download a web page. The very best security suites will include such functionality as standard.

As this information tends to be sourced from users, and web surfing is a very personal thing, false positives can be a problem. It's critical that any safer-surfing software is customisable. In essence, you want to be able to set the level of security you need, and adjust it to make exceptions.

Importance: 2/5

Security software: Nice, not critical

11. Sandboxing, and a virtualised browser. A nice, if not crucial, function is the ability to test the waters of potentially dodgy software in a secure environment. A virtual browser isolates your web-surfing experience from the operating system, allowing you to block web-based threats as you surf to potentially dangerous waters. A sandboxing environment is a similar function, but for full-blown software programs.

Importance: 3/5

12. PC maintenance functionality. Just as ticking off known virus signatures is no longer enough, simply focusing on keeping bad things off your computer is only the start of making sure everything is ship-shape. PC maintenance software is a class all of its own, and you certainly shouldn't base your security decisions on the disk-optimisation tools bundled with a suite. But the best software will take a look at your computer's performance as a means of diagnosing an otherwise undetected infestation. It's also good to have a utility that checks for missing security software, or outdated programs, as well as potentially unsafe system settings.

Importance: 2/5

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