It is only
natural, when you get a brand new PC, especially one with broadband
capabilities built-in, you want to connect to the Internet and see it action.
For many, the browser and the World Wide Web are the “killer-apps” of
the modern PC—the Internet is what you have a PC for, everything else is just
extra fluff.

connecting to the Internet with a new unprotected and unpatched
PC is practically inviting the nefarious and malicious to infect your PC.
According to research published by Sophos in July 2005, there is
about a 50 percent chance that an unpatched PC will
be infected with malicious software within 12 minutes of connecting to the
Internet. Once infected, it is almost impossible to get a PC clean again
without completely re-installing the operating system. (We are restricting this
conversation to Windows PCs for the moment.)

To prevent
the frustration that comes with re-installing Windows, you should take the
necessary steps to update, configure, and patch your new PC. Keep in mind that
no matter how new your PC is, it will most likely need patching and it will
definitely need to be properly configured. Here are 10 basic things you should
do before attaching the Internet to a new PC.

1. Make a starter CD-ROM

Before you
disconnect your old computer, take a few minutes to burn a starter CD-ROM that
contains the latest version of your favorite anti-virus software. I prefer to
keep this simple and inexpensive by using AVG
from Grisoft, but if you like Norton or McAfee those
will work just as well.

To save
time later, you should put other security applications on this disk like Spybot Search & Destroy, AdAware, etc. It would also be a
good idea to include any updated drivers you might need—drivers for your video
card for example. Just like Windows, your video card drivers are likely to be a
little old also. You should also put drivers on this disk for peripherals that
you will be connecting to your new PC, like cameras, scanners, printers, and
game interface devices. Having all of these device
drivers residing on a single CD-ROM means you will not have to go to the
Internet to retrieve them as you set up your new PC.

2. Remove the promotional apps

After going
through the initial setup process where Windows identifies devices you may be
asked to register and/or activate your copy of the Windows operating system—hold
off on that for now, you can always do that later. This first thing to do is to
clean up the mess that shipped in your PC. You should remove all of the
promotional and trial software that you do not intend to use from your new PC.
This is usually the first thing I do, because invariably one of those apps will
ask if I want to activate it or register it—a process that usually involves
accessing the Internet. (Some times they don’t ask—they just assume I want them
on my pristine PC). At this point you should have no connection to the Internet
at all, wireless or not.

applications to be deleted are usually ISPs advertisements like AOL and Earthlink, an antivirus app from a competitor of your
current application (something you should already have ready on your CD-ROM),
trial versions of Money or Quickbooks, etc. If you
are not going to use these, go to the Add/Remove Programs applet in the Control
Panel and remove them completely.

3. Install antivirus software

Install the
antivirus software that you burned onto a CD-ROM in step 1. The assumption is that
any PC purchased after this document is published will have Windows XP SP2
installed, but if SP2 is not installed, you could have that update ready on
your disk too. In fact, if you know how, you could have some of the more
important Windows patches and updates
on your disk also. This would be a good time to install anti-spyware software too.

4. Turn on a software firewall

comes with a modest but still useful software firewall. Before you
start surfing the Internet you should turn it on—or you can install an
alternative third-party software firewall like Zone Alarm. Any alternative
firewalls should have been included on the startup CD-ROM you made in Step 1.

5. Install printers and other peripherals

Before you
connect to the Internet it is a good idea to install your other peripherals to
your new PC. Performing this step means that when you do connect to the Windows
update page, it will see your devices and make suggestions for new
Microsoft-tested (WHQL) drivers if they are available.

6. Establish a password for the administrator account

One of the
most glaring security vulnerabilities in any new Windows-based PC is that it
ships with a wide open administrator access to the root directory. You never
want anyone but you to have unfettered access to the admin settings on your PC.
And while a password could easily be bypassed by a skilled cracker, it
will deter the less determined intruder.

7. Create a new user account with password

This is
almost as equally important as password protecting your administrator account.
For general day-to-day activities, you do not want to be using your admin
account. Instead, you should be using a user
that is also password protected (a password that is different than
the one you are using for the admin account, please). This adds another layer
of protection for your new PC because a user account does not have the same
all-access permissions as an admin account. In some cases, malicious software
will be thwarted by this level of permissions restriction alone.

8. Turn off unnecessary Windows services

has been doing a better job of this with the release of SP2, but there are
still numerous unnecessary Windows services and processes running by default on
most PCs. If you’d like to see how many there are just perform the three finger
salute (CTRL-ALT-Delete) click Task Manager and then the Processes tab. All of
those applications, services, processes, etc. are operating in the background
on your PC. The problem is that many can actually open access to your PC to the
outside world without your knowledge or active consent. That access is usually
justified for what the process is supposed to be doing, it is just that many
times your PC doesn’t need that process at all—Web servers, network
, debuggers—are all processes you probably don’t need on your
personal PC. (Check out this TechRepublic
for an in-depth examination of these services and for some
suggestions for which can be deactivated.)

9. Establish a system restore point

Now that
you have performed the first eight steps you should take a moment to establish
a system
restore point
. To manually create a Restore Point, you launch the System
Restore utility by clicking Start | All Programs | Accessories | System Tools |
System Restore and then follow the steps in the wizard. This step will
establish a fall back point if something happens to go haywire later.

10. Install and configure a router

This last
step may seem like an unnecessary added expense to some, but in this age of
viruses, worms, and other nasty Internet infections, a router standing between
you and the outside world coming at you at broadband speeds offers another
significant layer of protection. Connecting a PC directly to the Internet means
that PC gets its own IP address, which means it can be seen by every sleazebag
with malicious intent. By adding a router
to your broadband setup, the router gets the visible IP address and gives your
new PC an internal address. In addition, routers have hardware firewalls and
other features that help block the bad guys before they get to your new PC.

This is
especially helpful because the first thing you should do when you do actually
connect to the Internet is head directly for Windows Update. This is the most
important tip in this guide—the only place you should be heading on the Web
when you first connect your PC to the Internet is the Windows Update page. You
will not have time to check movie times or football scores. The 12 minute
countdown to possible infection starts as soon as connect.