Trading Computer Security: How to Protect Against Hackers, Viruses, Trojans, Keyloggers etc
With billions of internet users worldwide causing a huge proliferation in the usage of internet payment systems and banking, it has become extremely profitable for the bad guys to steal from unsuspecting and uninformed web users. All a hacker needs to do is to plant a malware or spyware into a person's computer to obtain the userid and password of any internet banking or internet brokerage trading accounts. This will then allow him to empty it out or at least divert some funds away into his own account. If you take your trading business seriously, you must take immediate actions to secure your trading computer systems!
Securely Connect a Trading PC to the Internet
A computer used for trading that is left switched on for long periods of time collecting market data should not be connected directly to internet via the cable or ADSL modem of your internet provider. Always connect to the net via a broadband router or a hardware firewall, which can then in turn be connected to the modem. The router actually acts as a first layer of defence as it implements Network Address Translation (NAT) as a form of IP masquerading and furthermore, most modern routers have a hardware firewall built-in to prevent easy access to hackers. If your router also supports wireless (or wifi) connections, make sure you lock your wifi access using encryption protocols such as WPA or WPA2. Securing your wireless access will not only prevent a casual surfer in the vicinity of your router (about 100-300 meters radius depending on blockage) from accessing your internet but most importantly prevent a hacker with malicious intent from breaking into your computer using the Windows network connection. The Linksys WRT54GL Wireless-G Broadband Router, Linksys WRT610N Dual N-band Router and ZoneAlarm Z100G Secure Wireless Router are some recommended routers suitable for traders. The Linksys routers are great for general use while the Zonealarm routers have enhanced security features based on the company's expertise in software firewalls.
Once your physical connections to the internet are secure, next you have to secure the software that runs on your PC.
Essential Security Tools for Securing Your Windows based Stock Trading Computer
Majority of the users worldwide run a version of Microsoft's Windows operating system. It therefore makes economical sense for hackers and phishers to target the Windows OS, which is why most of the viruses or trojans you hear of are from people running Windows. It is much safer to run Linux when connected to the net, but for traders, it is not an option (read Why traders don't use Linux for Stock Trading). When running Windows, you must have a software firewall, an anti-virus program and an anti-malware program.
Microsoft Windows versions from XP onwards have built-in firewalls. The one in WinXP is quite basic but the latest ones in Vista and Windows 7 are actually quite good and suitable for most traders' needs. If however you feel the need for stronger protection, then a commercial product with much more robust protection and lockdown options like ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite is highly recommended. Always be aware of the status of your firewall as sometimes certain malware may actually cause it to stop running thereby exposing your PC to external threats or to allow a rogue application on your PC to phone home with your sensitive details. If you opt for a commercial firewall, make sure that Windows firewall is turned off to prevent conflicts. Take note also that certain trading applications or other software may require configuring the firewall to open certain ports in your PC in order to properly function. Make sure this is done with care and not to the extent that a blanket clearance is given for any software to use the open ports.
Anti-Virus (AV) Programs
As the current versions of Windows do not include an anti-virus detection capability, you have to use a 3rd party anti-virus program. One of the best free AV programs is Avira Antivir. Avira offers a fully functional free basic anti-virus program so that you may consider upgrading to their paid premium versions. Some of the best fully commercial AV programs are the Kaspersky Anti-Virus Products from Kaspersky Labs.
Microsoft offers, as part of their Windows Update service, a free Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool. This tool helps to remove specific malicious software from computers which run Windows operating systems, including all versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7. It must be noted that even though this tool helps to remove malicious software, it should never be used as a replacement for an antivirus program, reason being that this tool has a very limited database of malicious software and searches only for specific threats. Also, the update frequency is monthly unlike dedicated antivirus solutions which are updated daily. Having said that, the Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool is still a must have as it represents what malware Microsoft determines to be a threat to their users based on their extensive network of users around the globe. A great 3rd party anti-malware program is Malwarebytes, which is invaluable for removing malware from your computer when its already infected. Malwarebytes comes in a free and a paid version of the program, which includes the Real-Time Protection Module.
Other Options for a Secure Trading System
Another approach that many traders use to almost guarantee a secure system is by using virtualization technology. If you have a powerful enough PC (see best computer for stock trading), you can run any flavor of Windows on a Linux platform using programs such as VMWare or VirtualBox. Basically your Windows trading PC is reduced to an image which can be restored to its original state very easily if you suspect that the PC has been compromised. Another easier way to do the same is by using a program called Deep Freeze by Faronics. Once Deep Freeze is installed, any changes made to the computer, regardless of whether they are accidental or malicious—are never permanent and can be easily reversed so viruses, trojans etc have no chance to spread and cause damage.
Internet Safety Tips
The best way to keep your trading PC safe is to use it solely for trading purposes and if need be, get a second PC, possibly a laptop, for browsing the net and other uses. The distribution method of malware and trojans has become so sophisticated that you may get infected just by visiting an infected site, or commonly referred to as a "drive-by" install. You don't even need to download or click on anything as the malware initiates its own install. The choice of internet browser and search engine is extremely critical in ensuring a safe browsing experience. Google's search engine and it's browser, Google Chrome, are a potent combination against "drive-bys" and other malware. If you use Google to search for something and if you happen to click on a website with malware on it, Google will warn you and ask if you want to continue loading the infected website. Over and above this, Google's Chrome browser runs each tab in a sandbox thereby effectively isolating itself from other sensitive areas of your computer thus making it much safer to use. Another recommended browser is the hugely popular Mozilla Firefox which has been catching up with Microsoft's Internet Explorer in the number of people using it. This is primarily due to it's more secure browsing experience and critical features like maintaining a regularly updated blacklist of rogue sites within the internet.
The recommendations above should ensure a safe experience online so that you can fully concentrate on making money in the markets rather than be bogged down by computer problems.