Ten Steps to Ensure PC Security
1. Use Antivirus software and keep it updated
Not only should you use an antivirus program but you should keep the definitions updated. Most good programs have updates daily. At the last estimate there are about 80,000 viruses and Trojans on the Net with new ones being released everyday. I personally use Kaspersky Labs and it has never missed a virus nor wrongly tagged a program as one. Another highly rated program is F-Secure. Neither of these are free but I've never found a free one that did the job adequately. Both are actually small investments compared to potential loss.
2. Never open email attachments
That's right, never! Although it may appear to be from a friend it may not be. Most viruses spread by grabbing the address's from the address book and sending itself to everyone in it. It may be that you get one from a friend that never actually sent it. Always verify that your friend actually sent it and even then don't open it. Instead right click and 'save as' to your PC and then scan it for viruses first.
3. Stay clear of so called 'required downloads' and patches
Be wary of any Web site that requires you to download software to view a page, unless it's something familiar like a Flash plug-in or Acrobat Reader. The file may contain a virus, a Trojan horse, or some auto-dialer that calls pay-per-minute numbers via your modem and racks up huge charges.
Never download something from an email or open the attachment that claims to be a 'security patch' or something similar. There's one going around that claims to be from Microsoft and includes a 'critical update'. Microsoft, or any other site I know of NEVER send patches and updates by email. Microsoft does send bulletins inviting you to their site to download but even then only if you've previously subscribed to their newsletter. Get your updates only from a legitimate web site.
4. Block and/or remove Spyware and Popups
Ideally it would be best never to have Spyware installed in the first place but of course that's not always possible. There are many web sites and popup windows that install this Sleazeware without your permission or even knowing it's being done. Camtech's award winning Spyware Inoculator blocks most known Spyware from being installed and in most cases will prevent those already installed from functioning.
But if you already have some installed I highly recommend SpyBot Search & Destroy. This freeware is in my opinion the most thorough remover available and does an excellent job. It is freeware with no strings but he does accept donations through Paypal.
Popup windows are nothing more than a new web browser window without all the trimmings. They are also just as capable of installing Spyware and are used for that purpose quite often. I've tried many popup blockers and have found none better than Meaya Popup Ad Filter. You can block all while allowing the ones you want.
5. Take charge of the Spam you receive
Spam is more than just a nuisance. It's also the major cause of virus infections. There are many anti-spam programs available and most are very efficient. I suggest finding and using one. A search on Google or any other search site will show available programs.
6. Keep your Operating System up to date
E-mail-borne worms and other viruses like to exploit security holes in your software--namely Windows and other Microsoft programs. These days Microsoft issues many critical updates to fix these flaws Last January, the Slammer worm exploited a vulnerability that Microsoft had fixed more than six months before. But thousands of infected computers--including some at Microsoft--didn't have the patch installed. Run the Windows Update program once a week and whenever Microsoft issues a warning.
I recently attended a Microsoft event and one of the announcements was that they are working on automated patch management software which will take care of updates. But until then be sure to keep up with their updates.
7. Keep a rescue floppy disk handy
When things go bad, a boot or rescue disk is your first step to recovery. At minimum, you'll want to put the basic elements of your operating system on a floppy disk. They are very easy to make. Insert a blank, formatted floppy disk and go to Control Panel/Add-Remove Programs and click the Startup Disk tab.
For Windows XP insert a floppy disk, open my Computer, right click on that drive (usually A:) and select Format. In the Format options choose 'Create a MS-DOS Startup disk'
You can also use most antivirus programs to create a rescue disk you can use when your system gets infected. Label it with a date and store it near your system where you won't lose it.
8. Check announcements of patches/alerts to make sure they're not fake.
Rumors spread like wild fire and there are more hoaxers than hackers on the Internet, and more bogus "e-mail virus alerts" than actual viruses. A phony warning could cause you to delete harmless files and then forward the message to others, clogging e-mail servers and causing virus-like damage in the process. When you get one of these e-mails check it out first. Type the name of the alleged virus into a search engine to see if any of the major security vendors have issued an alert, and visit the virus hoax pages at F-Secure and Hoaxbusters.
9. Use a Firewall
A firewall is like a bouncer for your computer. It checks every ingoing/outgoing attempt and won't let anything in or out until you allow it. So a hacker can't access personal information on your hard drive, and a Trojan horse keystroke logger can't steal your passwords and transmit them over the Net. I can recommend two free programs that do a great job. Sygate Personal Firewall and Kerio Personal Firewall offer free versions of their products that will adequately protect you. Although I haven't used these I have heard great reviews for both.
10. Make backups of important files
Simply put: Back up your data files at least weekly. Even if you fall victim to a virus or hacker attack, you'll escape with only minor damage. There are many backup programs available and some are free. (See below for how to search for them) Camtech uses Ghost to backup everything, everyday and have needed it more than a few times.
A good one for backing up your important email data is Outlook Express Backup Genie. It works with most major email clients such as Outlook Express, Microsoft Outlook, Eudora, Netscape Messenger, Opera, IncrediMail, Pegasus Mail, The Bat and PocoMail.
It's unfortunate that we have to take such drastic steps to protect our property but as long as there's hackers and crackers (losers) we'll have to do so. After all, the Internet is a lot like the Wild West with no Sheriffs or Marshals to enforce the law....yet.
If you'd like to search for more alternatives use any major web site such as Cnet or ZDNet and use search keywords like Spy, anti-spy, spyware, security, virus, anti-virus, Trojan, spam, firewall, backup or popup.