I can remember a time, waaaay back in the early '90s, when there were no advertisements anywhere on the internet; when you could download anything and everything with no fear of viruses; when every piece of email you received was from someone you knew....
Obviously, it ain't like that no more. Now you have to protect your computer like a medieval castle protecting itself from invaders.
How do you do that? You need three basic software elements: A firewall, virus protection, and a spyware program. A firewall is sort of like the moat around the castle: It prevents things from getting in (or out) without your approval. The virus protection and the spyware program would be like the knights on the castle walls: They also help to repel invaders, but if an enemy does get inside they will hunt that enemy down and lock him away.
So let's get to work on the castle, eh?
First you should install some anti-virus software. We do this first to make sure there are no viruses already in your computer. There is an excellent (and FREE) anti-virus program from GriSoft called AVG.
Click on "Download AVG Free Edition" Click "Yes, I Agree" to the License Agreement. Fill in the registration form with your name, email address, and country. Wait for the download (it's about 7 Mb). Check your email. You'll get a note from GriSoft containing a registration number you'll need. Once you have that and the downloaded file, go ahead and install. Then run a complete check of your system. Any surprises?
Viruses are almost always malicious: They will attempt to damage or delete files you have on your computer. In addition to viruses, which are commonly spread by email attachments, there is a somewhat less malicious but equally sneaky thing called "Spyware." Spyware is a program that will surreptitiously monitor your actions, gathering data on your computer activities, and then send that data to advertisers or other interested parties. It gets into your system by piggy-backing on another program you've downloaded. If you download (for example) a free screensaver, hidden inside it may be this little spyware program that records the various websites you visit, then sends that info to advertisers. Back to the castle metaphor, think of it like the Trojan Horse.... In addition to invading your privacy, spyware can affect your system's performance and even go online without your knowledge to report the information it got from you (though usually it just relays the data whenever you are online).
To get rid of any spyware on your machine now (and to guard against it in the future), you need Spybot (also FREE!).
Click on "Download now"
Install. Then run a complete check. Any spies lurking in your machine?
Now that we've made sure there are no invaders inside the castle walls, let's build the moat. Two excellent firewalls to choose from are ZoneAlarm and Sygate. I have used ZoneAlarm and liked it; I'm currently using Sygate to try it out, and I like it too. ZoneAlarm may be a tad more user-friendly, but neither is very complex. And like everything else on this page, they're FREE! These programs will run in the background while you're online and will block any outside attempts to invade your computer. Occasionally, if it's a grey area, the firewall will ask you whether to allow some particular info to enter or leave your system; unless you know for sure what it is, the safe answer is "no."
Click on "Download FREE ZoneAlarm"
Download SYGATE PERSONAL FIREWALL Click on "Download Now"
If you're using Windows XP, you already have a firewall of sorts built right into your system. So why would you need another one? All I can say is, Microsoft has had to deal with one gaping security flaw after another with XP over the past few years, so having a third-party firewall in place wouldn't hurt. If you really don't want your pants to fall down, wear a belt and suspenders....
This last section isn't a security measure, but it will make your web surfing more pleasant. Are you annoyed by all those pop-up ads you get when trying to surf the web? Then you need a pop-up blocker. Some browsers, like Mozilla, have pop-up blockers built right in. But if you're using Netscape or Internet Explorer, you'll have to install one. Two excellent (and FREE!) blockers you can choose from are The Google Toolbar which works with Internet Explorer only, and Pop-Up Stopper. Of the two I think I prefer Google: It doesn't seem quite as aggressive as Pop-Up Stopper, but the Google bar has lots of other bells and whistles that Pop-Up Stopper doesn't. Google is smart enough to let through "friendly" legitimate pop-ups that are not ads, whereas Pop-Up Stopper blocks everything unless you override it (by holding down the control key) when you want to view a pop-up. It's your call.
Download GOOGLE TOOLBAR
Download POP-UP STOPPER
Once you have all this installed, you should get in the habit of 1) updating both AVG and SPYBOT regularly, and 2) giving your system regular checkups with AVG and SPYBOT. New viruses and new kinds of spyware appear almost every day on the internet, meaning you have to get the latest updates for AVG and SPYBOT so they know what to look for. (Updating these programs is easy -- literally one click in each case.) And you need to do the regular system checks because viruses and spyware can invade your system even while offline, when AVG and SPYBOT aren't working -- for example, when you install a file you'd previously downloaded or when you copy/install from a disk. Both the updating and the system checking can be scheduled to happen automatically whenever you want. But I prefer to do it manually -- so once every week or so I update both programs, then do a system check with both programs. Takes maybe 20 minutes, give or take, and you can play solitaire while it's going on. :-)
If you don't have a firewall, anti-virus software, and a spyware program installed on your machine, it's really only a matter of time before something gets in and does harm to your system. None of these downloads is more than 10 megabytes, and they're all pretty easy to install and configure -- and they're FREE! If you have any questions, call me. Good luck! --Gary
Another site you should know about if you want to keep your computer healthy is PC Pitstop. This site will perform a complete diagnostic on your computer to alert you to any maintenance you might need to perform to keep your computer in top condition, and will explain the results in easy-to-understand language. It will check the health of your hard-drive, memory, CPU, video, and overall performance, plus will check your system for viruses and spyware. The first time you visit you will fill out a short form, and if you like they will keep track of your check-ups each time you visit so you can see how your machine performs over time. It's a great site and has actually saved me money by alerting me to problems I didn't know I had.
and click on the little yellow key.