Gadget guru: Wireless security

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Q: We own a Dell Windows XP with Linksys WiFi Model BEFW1154, 802.11b, 2.4GHz. We gave Linksys an 11-digit security code. We have Windows Service Pack 2 with a firewall, but we weren’t sure we had enough security. So we bought Zone Alarm (free version); however, it was incompatible with Linksys. I was told by Linksys that just by owning their WiFi we were already completely secure.

Is it true, and is this the best way to secure our computer? It’s all rather confusing. Thanks so much.

John Barnard

A: Thanks for the question. You are quite right. All the security stuff surrounding home networks - particularly wireless ones - is extremely confusing.

The prevailing view these days is that the best form of security is layered security that combines both hardware and software and you were certainly headed in the right direction.

You were quite right to enable the security features of the Linksys router and then install a firewall. The Microsoft firewall is a good start, but ZoneAlarm is certainly better. I am not familiar with your particular router but I believe that it comes with ZoneAlarm’s firewall built into it - you can check by going to the security setting tab in the configuration menu.

Generally however It is certainly not true that a wireless router provides all the security you need. in fact, most routers, unless they are specialised units, provide only minimal security and will not block a determined hacker or, perhaps more importantly, all the other malware like viruses, worms, trojans and keylogers that are floating around the internet.

You should therefore also be running an antivirus package and preferably a full security suite - Trend Micro and ZoneLabs both have solid offerings. Most of these suites will come with their own firewall and will probably prompt you to disable the Microsoft firewall included with Windows Service Pack 2.

As far as your WiFi connection is concerned, there are several software packages/services that will test WiFi security settings and add additional security if required. Try Jiwire’s free tool (http://www.jiwire.com/wifi-security-test.htm) for starters.

Vista Security

Q: I very much enjoyed your article on Vista in the recent FT supplement. I have two nagging questions which I suspect could be puzzling many others.

Firstly when you upgrade an XP or similar PC, can you just re-install all the same CD-ROMs you had before? (This partly a licensing/ unique product keys question and partly a product compatibility question)

Secondly, does Vista make any of the software that we have had to install to make up for XP “inadequacies” redundant (or less necessary) such as registry cleanups, antivirus, antispyware, nero?

Meir Hakkak

A: Interesting questions Meir. Regarding the first question, you are right: there are two separate considerations – licensing and compatibility.

If you are installing Vista over an existing Windows OS then the applications (and more importantly their licensing keys) should be preserved intact. Obviously, as your question implies, some applications may not be fully Vista compatible and may need to be upgraded. However I must say that in my experience most of the existing software I had installed on a Windows XP machine works just fine – especially if you have downloaded the latest patches and fixes.

If you are installing Vista onto a bare drive (or a reformatted drive) then you will indeed need to reinstall all your applications.

In my experience, provided you have the original product key this should not be a problem (though again you may encounter compatibility problems with some software – particularly security applications).

If you have lost the product key you may be able to persuade the vendor to provide you with a new one if you explain the problem – but given the nature of many helpdesks, it may be simpler and easier to bite the bullet and purchase the latest Vista compatible software again.

If you are installing Vista on a new machine you could also consider using a program like PC Mover from LapLink that moves most applications as well as data over from an existing PC.

On your second question, Vista is supposedly much more secure than XP, particularly if you take advantage of features built into Internet Explorer 7 for Vista like running in "protected mode."

In addition, improved "user account controls" make it easier to switch between "administrator" and "standard" user rights.

Together, user account controls and security improvements to Internet Explorer (including the new protected mode) should reduce the impact of malware.

Vista also includes and improved personal firewall (derived from the firewall that came with Windows XP Service Pack 2) and Windows Defender, a technology that helps protect your computer against pop-ups, slow performance, and security threats caused by spyware and other unwanted software.

It features Real-Time Protection, a monitoring system that recommends actions against spyware when it"s detected, and a new streamlined interface.

That said, I plan to continue to run security software in addition to the built in protection provided by Vista and certainly the Security software vendors claim that their applications will do a better job of protecting users than Vista alone.

Paul Taylor tackles more of your high-tech problems and queries at www.ft.com/gadgetguru

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