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Security and Privacy Guide

How to Set Up a Sufficiently Secure Virtual OS

ATTENTION: If you want to avoid leaving private data entered for online purchases (usernames, passwords, names, phone numbers, addresses and credit card numbers) on your hard drive or removable medium after forgetting to reboot your virtual OS or securely erase the data, I strongly recommend doing the following two things: skip

  1. Encrypt your virtual operating system's (or virtual machine's) image with TrueCrypt (free) and for additional security, store it on a removable medium. skip
  2. Complete step 7, including storing your private data on an encrypted USB key or dongle (a secure thumb drive) and your encryption keys and web account passwords in secure* login and form fillers that protect against key loggers and installing an antiscreenlogger. Then follow the steps below to set up and maintain a private and secure virtual OS.

(* no web form filler is secure if the login page is unencrypted - http versus https - or a screen logger is installed on your system)

If you have Mac OS, the Safari browser ''protects your personal information on shared or public Macs when surfing the Web. Go ahead and check your bank account and .Mac email at the library or shop for birthday presents on the family Mac.

Using Safari's new Private Browsing feature, no information about where you visit on the Web, personal information you enter or pages you visit are saved or cached. It's as if you were never there.'' - Apple Computer, Inc.

If you have a Mac, skip the first four steps.

  1. If you've been saving private data on your hard drive, especially in unencrypted form, or the previous owner did, if there was one, securely erase your whole hard drive. Otherwise, skip this step.
  2. If you prefer saving your private data on your hard drive instead of on removable media (not recommended), create separate partitions for your operating system and personal files (for Windows, create NTFS partitions - they're more secure than FAT16 or FAT32).
  3. Because a newly-installed Windows system can become infected and corrupted by malware within only a few minutes of going online, especially with a broadband connection because your IP number never changes, I strongly recommend downloading all of the following software you choose to use first and saving them on a removable medium, before installing Windows.
    • Make sure you include the lastest drivers for your hardware. (drivers are usually located in the support section of each company's web site - if not, check driverguide.com)
  4. Do a clean installation of Windows XP Pro, Windows Vista or an alternative operating system. (a virtual operating system won't work without a real, host operating system)
  5. Install all critical updates, or better yet harden or secure your operating system and then install all critical updates.
    • If you have a Mac, skip to step 10.
    • I recommend WindizUpdate for Windows users, instead of Microsoft's WindowsUpdate service, because unneeded updates can corrupt or disable Windows, and unlike WindowsUpdate, WindizUpdate only lists updates for software and services on your system.
  6. Install a two-way firewall.
  7. Virtualization software, combined with behavior and whitelist HIPS, antirootkit software and operating system updates, will help reduce your computer's vulnerability to threats to about 1 tenth of 1 percent*.
    • Because of that and a virtual machine's ability to return a system to its original, healthy state, it also makes antimalware software pretty much unnecessary. But if you still prefer being extra safe, install the following software, scan often and install updates when available. skip
    • Antivirus
    • Antitrojan
    • Antispyware
  8. Either install a HIPS with a whitelist, or better yet, combine it with a HIPS with a behavior blocker and a HIDS.
  9. To be safe, I recommend using the following antirootkit software as well to check for rootkits which may have bypassed your HIPS program.
    • WARNING: Removing a rootkit may corrupt and disable your operating system, and destroy personal data in the process. I strongly recommend reformatting and reinstalling Windows instead, if you want to keep using Windows. Otherwise, you might want to consider taking this opportunity to switch to an alternative and more secure operating system.
  10. Install one of the following virtualization (CPU speed) or emulation (slow or very slow) software combinations: skip
    • WARNING: Installing software and working in your virtual OS for long periods of time without running a HIPS and / or HIDS could, if your virtual OS were infected, infect others' computers and you could lose private data to identity thieves, predators and others interested in your private data. I strongly recommend running a HIPS and a HIDS on either your host operating system, your virtual OS, or both.
    • Finally, don't forget to:
  11. securely erase private data stored in the virtual OS every time before shutting down. Better yet, keep your private data from being stored on your hard drive by the virtual OS.
  12. Reboot or restart your virtual OS at least twice a day, and always before logging on to an online bank.

Security and Privacy Guide

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