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How to Check Your Security Software, Settings, and Status

Sure, you've installed antivirus, a VPN and other security software on your PC, phones, and tablets, but is it all working, or have you already been hacked? We've got 10 tips to help you perform your own security checkup.

How long ago did you install your antivirus or security suite? How many times have you looked at it since then? Security products are generally designed for users who plan to set them and forget them, but occasionally you should remember, and check on them.

Here are 10 simple steps you can take to make sure you get the most out of your security systems.

1. Keep Your Antivirus Up to Date

Check for New Version

Modern antivirus utilities use behavior-based detection systems, so they can stop malware they've never seen before. However, most still also use malware signatures, a kind of digital fingerprint, to pick off the easy, known threats. Open your antivirus. Do you see a message about needing to update the databases? Even if you don't, rummage around to find the command that runs an on-demand check for updates. It couldn't hurt!

Also check whether an update is available for the product itself. In fact, check all your security products for updates. Typically, you'll find an option to check for updates in the File or Help menu, or in the menu that appears when you right-click the products icon in the notification area. It's possible that in doing this you'll discover that the subscription expired; renew right away!

2. Use the Best Security Software

Look at each of your security products and consider how you came to choose it. Did you see an ad on TV? Did a friend suggest it? Did it come with the computer?

To make sure you've got the best, visit pcmag.com and peruse our review of the product. If we found flaws in the product's protection, or just didn't rate it highly, check out our Editors' Choice products for the category. You may want to jump ship.

3. Put Your Antivirus to the Test

How do you even know your antivirus is working? If it doesn't pop up to say, "malware quarantined," does that mean there's no malware? Or that it's not working? Here's how you can test your protection without risk.

Start by visiting the Security Features Check on the website of the AMTSO (Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization). Now run the various tests, which check several aspects of malware protection, as well as protection against phishing websites. Do note that this only works if your antivirus supports the AMTSO test pages. You'll find a list of supporting companies at the bottom of each test page.

AMTSO Features Check

4. Verify Your VPN

A VPN, or virtual private network, protects your internet traffic by routing it through an encrypted connection. Nobody can view your data, not even the owner of the network. And the sites you connect with see the IP address of the VPN server, not your own, thereby protecting your privacy. But how do you know it's working?

Here's how to check if your VPN is leaking. Turn off the VPN and search "what is my ip" in Google to see your actual IP address. Now engage the VPN and check again. You should see a different IP address. You can also use a geolocation website to verify the location of that IP address, to make sure it matches the location stated by the VPN.

What Is My IP

5. Check Your Mobile Devices

Apple has made iOS pretty airtight, but Android devices aren't nearly as secure. There are millions of malicious programs specifically aimed at wreaking havoc on Android devices. If you don't have a security program on your Android, you're taking a risk. And the typical Android security tool offers both malware protection and antitheft features.

It's possible you already have Android protection available as part of your desktop security suite. Many modern suites cover multiple platforms. Check out our roundup of the suites that offer the best Android protection.

6. Scan the Internet of Things

Your computers and mobile devices aren't the only things communicating over your home network. Chances are good you have many other devices on that network, things like game consoles, video doorbells, garage-door openers, and whatnot. The problem is, you can't install security software on these devices, so you can't be sure they're secure.

Or can you? There's a growing category of free home security scanners, programs like Avira Home Guard, that do two useful things. First, they let you know exactly what devices are on your network. You may be surprised at the length of the list. Second, they check for security problems with those devices.

Bitdefender Smart Home Scanner Main Window

Bitdefender Home Scanner goes one step beyond simply reporting on possible vulnerabilities. It pops up a notification when a new device joins the network, and offers to scan it. It's also a heads-up; do you know who just joined?

7. Analyze Your Passwords

You're using a password manager, right? That's good! But is it saving a bunch of weak, duplicate passwords for you? Getting all your passwords into the system is only the first step.

Most password managers include a report on password strength. The best ones give you a list that you can sort by strength. If you come up with a raft of weak and duplicate passwords, start fixing them. Do the worst five, or however many you have time for. Fix some more tomorrow. Keep at it until the password manager gives you a gold star.

8. Have You Been Pwned?

Data breaches happen every week, and personal information leaks into the Dark Web. Yours may be exposed, but how would you know?

Fortunately, the handy website Have I Been Pwned can help. Just enter your email to find out whether that information turned up in a known breach, or in a data dump on a site like Pastebin. If you get the "Oh no—pwned!" message, change your account password immediately.

Have I Been Pwned

9. Review Your Social Media Security

It goes without saying that your social media accounts (except for Twitter) should be set to private, so only your friends can see your posts. But have you checked to make sure yours are configured for best security? Log in, navigate to settings, and review anything related to security or privacy. On Facebook, for example, you want only Friends seeing your posts, and only Friends of Friends allowed to send new friend requests. And you don't want search engines linking to your profile.


Facebook also lets you review all the devices that are logged in to your account. Review the list, and if any of them look fishy, log out remotely.

You may not realize it, but even if your own settings are tight, friends and apps can leak your data. On Facebook, you can close that leak by disabling the sharing API. And you can download and view data saved by Facebook and Google.

10. Check Your Credit

How would you feel if you opened your credit card bill and found a charge for a ski vacation that you didn't take? Yeah, that would be bad. But you can get ahead of the game by proactively checking your credit.

We like Credit Karma, a free website and mobile app that keeps an eye on your credit scores. Yes, you can get your credit reports from each of the three big agencies once a year at no charge, but Credit Karma works directly with TransUnion and Equifax to check your scores as often as once per week. It also automates getting the full yearly reports on a regular basis. If you see a new account you didn't open, or a precipitous change in your score, you can straighten things out before the thief goes skiing.

Further Reading

Antivirus Reviews

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About Neil J. Rubenking

Neil J. Rubenking
Neil Rubenking served as vice president and president of the San Francisco PC User Group for three years when the IBM PC was brand new. He was present at the formation of the Association of Shareware Professionals, and served on its board of directors. In 1986, PC Magazine brought Neil on board to handle the torrent of Turbo Pascal tips submitted by readers. By 1990, he had become PC Magazine's technical editor, and a coast-to-coast telecommuter. His "User to User" column supplied readers with tips and solutions on using DOS and Windows, his technical columns clarified fine points in programming and operating systems, and his utility articles (over forty of them) provided both useful programs and examples of programming in Pascal, Visual Basic, and Delphi. Mr. Rubenking has also written seven books on DOS, Windows, and Pascal/Delphi programming, including PC Magazine DOS Batch File Lab Notes and the popular Delphi Programming for Dummies. In his current position as a PC Magazine Lead Analyst he evaluates and reports on security solutions such as firewalls, anti-virus, anti-spyware, ransomware protection, and full security suites. Mr. Rubenking is an Advisory Board member for the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization, an international non-profit group dedicated to coordinating and improving testing of anti-malware solutions.

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