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Safety & security

5 free security downloads every computer needs

We’re constantly seeing spikes in phishing attacks, malicious websites and other dangers lurking on the web. All that adds up to big money. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, consumers lost more than $3.3 billion to fraud in 2020.

You don’t have to take this lying down. Between preemptive measures like security software and in-depth system scans for malware, there are plenty of options to protect your devices from harm. Tap or click here to see the best online virus scanners you can use for free.

If you’re looking for simple, effective ways to stay on top of cybersecurity, these five free downloads can help you protect your system from malware infection, secure your network and help browse the web with peace of mind. Here’s what you need to install.

1. Essential antimalware software for PCs and Macs

Antimalware programs are essential for scanning and cleaning harmful files from your computer. And when it comes to free options, Windows Defender and Malwarebytes have all your bases covered on Windows and Mac.

Windows Defender is designed by Microsoft to work with Windows 10 computers and comes with your PC by default. Because it works behind the scenes, there are no downloads or installation files to mess around with. Using the program, you can scan your computer for malware, quarantine malicious files and remove them with just a few clicks.

In addition to performing background scans, this software automatically scans downloads, open programs and provides new Windows Update definitions so you can stay on top of spreading threats. Make sure you’re using the latest version. Update Windows Defender here.

As for Apple systems, macOS doesn’t have a stock equivalent like Windows Defender, but that doesn’t mean you should go without protection.

Malwarebytes for Mac is designed for speed and can scan your entire computer in as little as 30 seconds. It identifies and removes malicious files for you once the scan is complete — no extra work is required on your end.

To get started, click the link below and select Free Download. The installer file will appear in your Downloads folder in the bottom right corner of your dock, where all your program icons are found. Click the file to open it, and follow the directions that appear on-screen.

Malwarebytes will run you through the process of your first scan once you boot it up for the first time.

2. Quad9 helps you optimize your network for security

DNS is responsible for directing you to specific websites when you type in a web address and why you don’t have to enter an IP address every time you want to visit a site. Your internet provider typically assigns your DNS settings automatically, but hackers can hijack these settings to redirect you to malicious websites.

Use a safer option: Cybersecurity advocates at IBM and The Global Cyber Alliance maintain the Quad9 Domain Name System. Every time you click on a web link, Quad9 will check the site against IBM X-Force’s threat intelligence database of over 40 billion analyzed webpages and images.

Quad9 works to protect you by blocking unauthorized DNS redirects right off the bat and can also protect your devices from cyberattacks by blocking remote hosts as well.

All you need to do to use Quad9 is edit the address into your DNS settings, so there are no additional programs to download. Tap or click here to find out more about Quad9, including the step-by-step instructions for your Windows PC or Mac.

3. HTTPS Everywhere encrypts unsecured websites so they’re safe to visit

Are you familiar with HTTPS? This online marker shows if a website is properly encrypted for secure communication and appears as a lock icon in your address bar, as well as an HTTPS:// in the web address itself.

Most websites these days use HTTPS to guard against hijacking and malicious hacking attempts, but not every site has made the switch.

Fortunately, the HTTPS Everywhere browser extension fixes this issue. It was created as a joint venture between the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project. Using a bit of clever coding, it’s able to rewrite your web requests as HTTPS — even if the website you visit isn’t properly encrypted.

If you’re concerned about visiting an unknown or new website, HTTPS Everywhere can give you a bit more peace of mind. Just make sure to pair it with a good cybersecurity suite like the ones above for maximum protection.

You can download the browser extension for the desktop versions of Chrome, Firefox, and Opera — and it comes standard with Brave and Tor. For Android smartphones, download the mobile version for Firefox and try the mobile version of Brave for iOS or Android.

Tap or click here to download the HTTPS Everywhere extension for your favorite browser.

4. This keylogger check will show you if someone is spying on what you type

Keyloggers are devastating programs that can monitor the things you are typing and send them back to the hackers in control of them. This allows them to steal passwords, email addresses and other personal information with ease — all right under your nose.

To protect your PC against keyloggers, anti-keylogging software is your best bet. When it comes to free options, Ghostpress offers a plethora of features in one lightweight download. Not only does it scan for existing keylogging software on your computer, but it also runs active real-time keylogging protection.

This means that it’s running in the background while you type and will block any background attempts to record what you’re spelling out. It can even prevent remote screenshots from activating, which hackers sometimes use to capture passwords that have their characters blocked by apps.

Check out Ghostpress anti-keylogger here.

Using a Mac? Tap or click here for tips on spotting and removing keyloggers.

5. This hard drive health checker will keep your system running smoothly

Ignoring warning signs of a failing hard drive can cost you a good deal of money and time.

To protect and monitor your hard drive, we recommend using a digital health checker like CrystalDisk for diagnostics. This program provides detailed readouts on your storage system’s status and can tell you when something is awry or unusual before the effects become obvious.

Another great option is HD Tune, which you can use free for 30 days.

A good deal of the information you’ll get back from a hard drive health checker is difficult to interpret if you’re not an expert. The most important thing you need to check is your disk’s “SMART status.” SMART — which stands for Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology — is how your disk reads its health back to you.

SMART uses specific statuses to tell you your hard drive’s health. If CrystalDisk shows you any of the following statuses, that means it’s time to replace your hard drive soon:

  • SMART 5 Reallocated Sectors Count
  • SMART 187 Reported Uncorrectable Errors
  • SMART 188 Command Timeout
  • SMART 197 Current Pending Sector Count
  • SMART 198 Uncorrectable Sector Count

If you keep a frequent eye on your SMART status, you can see an upcoming hard drive failure before it happens and save your valuable files from being lost forever. They don’t call it SMART for nothing.

As computers get more advanced, so do threats we face online. Luckily, these programs can give you peace of mind while you surf the internet and can help your system last longer than it might normally have.

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