Turn on your PC and you're immediately vulnerable. Protect yourself for free today with PC Advisor's favourite 15 free security tools.

One of the things readers frequently ask us is whether or not their PC is at risk and how to work out whether the machine in question has been infected. Sad to say, as long as your Windows PC is connected to a network or to the web, you run the risk of it being attacked. If you haven't got appropriate protection, it's in danger.

As with worrying about an undiagnosed ailment, it's far better to pay a visit to the doctor and find out whether there's anything wrong, rather than fretting unnecessarily.

In the case of PC infections, there are diagnostic tools that can perform a quick health and security check. You'll find some suggestions in the following pages. And if you need to know whether you're putting yourself and your PC at risk by visiting an unfamiliar online location, we can recommend ways to get a second opinion.

The right tools can help you understand the level of risk involved. The following utilities appraise the situation and deliver an informed assessment of where you stand.

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Turn on your PC and you're immediately vulnerable. Protect yourself for free today with PC Advisor's favourite 15 free security tools.

Eliminating malware

From firewalls and antivirus software to tools for combating rootkits and spyware, here are some great downloads that will protect your system against malicious attacks.

ZoneAlarm

zonealarm.com

ZoneAlarm may be the most popular free firewall on the planet – arguably, this is the product that made everyone conscious of the need for firewall protection. The most recent release supports Vista (Download ZoneAlarm for Vista here.).

It's easy to use and its method of configuring outbound protection is particularly useful.

Whenever a program tries to make an outbound internet connection, ZoneAlarm announces it with a pop-up alert. You can then permit or disallow the connection, on a one-time basis or permanently.

ZoneAlarm

ZoneAlarm

Comodo Firewall Pro

personalfirewall.comodo.com

ZoneAlarm is popular, but that doesn't make it the best free firewall you can find. One formidable rival is Comodo Firewall Pro, which independent testing site Matousec rated as the top firewall.

Matousec found that Comodo offered the highest level of 'antileak protection', one measure of a firewall's effectiveness.

Avast

avast.com
Tired of dealing with bloated, overpriced security suites that bog down your system and cost a fortune, when all you want is antivirus software?

Then get Avast, a superb antivirus program that's free for home use.

Because it's a lean piece of software, it imposes a relatively light burden on system resources and RAM. Despite this, it kills viruses in their tracks and has plenty of extras, including live scanning to prevent viruses from infecting your PC. Download Avast Home Edition for free here.

NEXT PAGE: more free malware killers > >

Get the latest PC security news, reviews tips and tricks at Security Advisor

Turn on your PC and you're immediately vulnerable. Protect yourself for free today with PC Advisor's favourite 15 free security tools.

More free malware killers

From firewalls and antivirus software to tools for combating rootkits and spyware, here are some great downloads that will protect your system against malicious attacks.

AVG Anti-Rootkit

grisoft.com

One of the most feared types of malware is the rootkit. Bad guys use rootkits to hide Trojan horses, which can then be used to take over your PC without your knowledge.

AVG Anti-Rootkit's sole purpose is to find and kill rootkits. It scans your PC, sniffing rootkits out and removing any it finds. It will be part of the upcoming AVG 8.0 security suite, but you have to pay for that! Download AVG Anti-Rootkit here.

Spyware Blaster

www.javacoolsoftware.com

Some of the nastiest kinds of spyware install themselves as ActiveX controls. Spyware Blaster protects you against them, blocking the installation of ActiveX-based malware and other spyware and eradicating tracking cookies that might invade your privacy.

The program works with Firefox, Opera or IE (Internet Explorer) to prevent your browser from being diverted to dangerous sites. One particularly nice touch is the utility's System Snapshot, which takes a snapshot of your PC.

If your computer gets infected later on, you can revert to the clean version.

AOL Active Security Monitor

safety.aol.com

This straightforward application looks at the security of your PC, reports its findings and makes various recommendations.

It checks you have antivirus software installed and, if so, whether the definitions are up to date. Then it does the same for antispyware, tests whether your firewall is enabled and checks for peer-to-peer software that could pose a danger.

The monitor doesn't have any protective capabilities itself, but it warns you if you need some. But take its recommendations with a grain of salt: it touts paid-for AOL software over free (possibly better) software. Download AOL Active Security Monitor here.

AOL Active Security Monitor

AOL Active Security Monitor

NEXT PAGE: safer surfing > >

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Turn on your PC and you're immediately vulnerable. Protect yourself for free today with PC Advisor's favourite 15 free security tools.

Safer surfing

From firewalls and antivirus software to tools for combating rootkits and spyware, here are some great downloads that will protect your system against malicious attacks.

McAfee SiteAdvisor

siteadvisor.com

Unlike the real world, it can be hard to recognise a bad online neighbourhood. There are no boarded-up windows, no empty storefronts, no hard-looking men lounging on corners or in doorways. The most inviting website can harbour all kinds of malware.

That's where the McAfee SiteAdvisor comes in. It warns you when a website that you're about to visit – or are already visiting – may be dangerous.

You install it as an IE toolbar or as a Firefox plug-in. Then, when you search with Google or some other search engine, it displays colour-coded icons next to each search result, indicating whether the site in question is safe (green), questionable (yellow) or clearly unsafe (red). Download SiteAdvisor here.

LinkScanner Lite

www.explabs.com

This is another good tool for determining whether a website harbours dangerous content. Open LinkScanner Lite and type in a site URL. The utility checks the site for dangerous scripts, bad downloads and other hazardous content. It also warns you about phishing sites and other potentially fraudulent online operations.

LinkScanner integrates with search sites much as Site Advisor does, putting icons next to search results to indicate whether or not they are dangerous. Unlike Site Advisor, though, it doesn't check whether sites harbour adware or spyware. Download Linkscanner lite here.

McAfee and LinkScanner

McAfee and LinkScanner

Internet Threat Meter

www.symantec.com

Every day, it seems, new online threats are unleashed. Symantec's Internet Threat Meter keeps you informed about the latest arrivals and includes a link to a Symantec site, where you can get more information and find fixes.

The program runs as a nifty little widget in XP or as a Sidebar Gadget in Vista, gathering data and reporting the results. Download Internet Threat Meter here.

HijackThis

www.spywareinfo.com

As our antispyware reviews show, no single antispyware program can detect and eradicate all spyware.

For full protection, add HijackThis to your arsenal. It thoroughly analyses your Registry and file settings before creating a log file of its results. Upload the log to the HijackThis website and ask the community there (very nicely) to analyse it for you. Download HijackThis here.

NEXT PAGE: cover your tracks > >

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Cover your tracks

Encrypting private information, disabling potentially harmful scripts and cleaning up accumulated detritus are all ways to strengthen your security. The following downloads will help you to keep things safe and orderly.

Kruptos 2.0

www.kruptos2.co.uk

Worried that someone may gain access to your most private files? Kruptos 2.0 uses powerful, 128bit encryption to scramble files so that only you can read them. It's particularly useful for USB flash drives and portable storage devices.

Kruptos lets you create self-extracting, encrypted archives and shred deleted files so that all traces vanish. It will even disguise the filename when you encrypt a file. Download Kruptos 2.0 here.

Kruptos, Transaction Guard and CCleaner

Kruptos, Transaction Guard and CCleaner

Transaction Guard

test.trendsecure.com

This is actually two pieces of software. It's a spyware detector and eradicator that monitors your system for spyware in real time – it then kills any it finds. It also introduces a 'secret keyboard' to ensure your secret passwords are not stolen online. Download Transaction Guard here.

CCleaner

ccleaner.com

When you surf the web, you leave a trail. Your PC swells up with temporary internet files, a history list, cookies and autocomplete entries. Windows itself constantly monitors what you do and records information about it. A hacker could gather a great deal of data about you from the stuff clogging up your PC.

CCleaner rids your system of all such traces, helping maintain your privacy and giving you back some of your hard disk space too. The first time we used this utility, it deleted a whopping 835MB of files. Download CCleaner here.

NEXT PAGE: disarming java threats, and deleting documents forever > >

Get the latest PC security news, reviews tips and tricks at Security Advisor

Turn on your PC and you're immediately vulnerable. Protect yourself for free today with PC Advisor's favourite 15 free security tools.

Disarming java threats, deleting documents

Encrypting private information, disabling potentially harmful scripts and cleaning up accumulated detritus are all ways to strengthen your security. The following downloads will help you to keep things safe and orderly.

NoScript

noscript.net

Among the biggest dangers you face when web surfing are booby-trapped Java and JavaScript scripts and applets. These are harmful pieces of code disguised as something benign or hidden.

NoScript, a free Firefox extension, prevents all JavaScript and Java applets from running, except on sites you designate as safe. The extension presents you with a list of safe sites, which you can add to.

For added protection, this remarkably powerful tool also blocks Java, Flash and other plug-ins on sites you don't trust. Download NoScript here.

File Shredder 2.0

fileshredder.org

You'd think that if you deleted a file from your PC, it would be gone. But even after you've flushed it through the Recycle Bin, special software can recreate it.

To prevent someone retrieving your files, use File Shredder 2.0. This overwrites any file with a random string of binary data.

There are five shredding algorithms and using the program is a breeze. Choose a file, shred it and it will be gone forever.

File Shredder and NoScript

File Shredder and NoScript

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