Security Starter Kit

Refined for 2010, the Security Starter Kit will ensure that your sanity lasts way longer than your resolutions through a collection of must-have programs to protect your Windows computer.


In our six categories this year, we offer the core essentials of Antivirus and Anti-spyware, as well as ancillary but important categories such as In-browser Security, Firewall, Encryption, and Parental Control. If you're looking for more than security, there's also our Windows Starter Kit. Essential utilities have earned their own kit, too: the Windows Utilities Starter Kit.

In-browser security

WOT (Web of Trust) for Firefox

Web of Trust is a cross-browser, crowd-sourced solution for evaluating a Web site's danger level. The intuitive warnings are clear and easy to read, and the add-on didn't adversely affect browser performance in our empirical test. Depending on the Web site you visit, the program's icon turns red, yellow, or green to illustrate the danger level. Clicking on the icon displays a chart showcasing Trustworthiness, Vendor Reliability, Privacy, and Child Safety. It works on Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Chrome. Opera and Safari don't directly support it, but you can use the bookmarklet mentioned in this blog post.

NoScript

This free Firefox extension blocks JavaScript from running without your permission, but NoScript doesn't allow you to stop its own devices. Click the small blue "S" button that NoScript adds to the toolbar to configure it for whitelisting the sites you'll allow to run scripts. You can also set it to partially allow scripts so you can make determinations as you surf. NoScript can even play an audio alert to notify users that scripts had been stopped. Among its more advanced features is the ability to forbid plug-ins from running on untrusted sites. However, you can't stop NoScript itself from running without uninstalling it. Still, NoScript is an excellent way to bully JavaScript, and not the other way around.

Adblock Plus for Mozilla Firefox

One of the best-known Firefox add-ons, AdBlock Plus effectively blocks online ads from a predefined list of ad providers. You can quickly personalize that list by clicking on the AdBlock Plus "stop sign" button it installs on either your navigation toolbar or your status bar. Adblock Plus runs unobtrusively in the background, and right-clicking an ad brings up a message box, through which you can easily add to the list of blocked ads. Removing an ad from the blocked list also is as simple as clicking and choosing the appropriate option. While similar extensions exist for other browsers, such as Google Chrome and Opera, none have the reputation of this one, which will also work in Thunderbird and SeaMonkey.

AVG LinkScanner Free Edition 2014

AVG has resurrected LinkScanner as a free standalone plug-in for Firefox and Internet Explorer. The "Search Shield" returns results from both Google and Yahoo with flags next to them. Green flags on Google indicate a result is safe to click through to, while Yahoo's safe results display no flags. This might have been a configuration error, although rebooting the browser didn't change the results. Links that are unsafe on both search engines will return red flags.

Hovering over a flag provides more details. Green flags show the IP address, the amount of time the scan took, and the date and time of the most recent scan. Red flags highlight the same information, as well as the risk category and the site name. Attempting to click through to a red-flagged page will take you to a warning screen that repeats most of the red-flag information--AVG calls this the "Active Surf-Shield." A small link at the bottom of the red-blocked screen will let you click through, although it cautions users that it will continue to block potentially harmful content. Unlike competing search results-ranking add-ons, LinkScanner didn't slow down our browsing experience.

LastPass Password Manager

This robust password manager is a must-use freeware tool that supports multiple operating systems. On Windows, it works with Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Google Chrome, with bookmarklets available for Opera. You create a master password, and then it uses automatic form filling and one-click log-in to simplify password entry.

LastPass will create secure passwords for you, as well as allowing for secure password sharing, password import and export, secure note-taking, and password backup and restore. Because the data is stored on its encrypted servers, you can access your passwords remotely. If you're worried about key logging, LastPass can make a single-serving use password for you. The interface is a basic set of fields to fill out, with several drop-down menus, but that should make it simple to use, if not outright familiar to many people.