One of the key elements in making sure your computer remains a productive tool is making sure that it is running smoothly. While software patches and routine maintenance take care of some of this, there are other threats that need to be addressed in a more active manner. Of course I am referring here to viruses, spyware, and other malicious software that all fall under the generic term “malware”.
Doing things such as ensuring that you use secure passwords and are not clicking on unknown attachments in your email will help reduce the risk of attacks from malware. But, there still a real need to run third-party security software. Not only will that software help to protect your machine and its data, but it will also aid in preventing your machine from becoming a carrier and infecting other machines.
The first form of protection you need is an anti-virus program. Good AV programs, as they are called, will scan you email, your disks, and even the websites you visit. One very good AV program, with a free starter version, is AVG by Grisoft. You can easily download it from their website and have it scanning within a matter of minutes. I have used AVG for a number of years and it will often catch threats that the big boys won’t. Additionally, since you can try it out for free, it is basically a no lose proposition. If you don’t like the way it performs, you can always turn to the programs from TrendMicro or McAfee.
The second type of protection you will need is something to protect you from spyware. Spyware is slightly different from a virus in that it usually doesn’t do your machine harm, but it can compromise your security, record passwords, and steal information. Windows Defender is built into Windows Vista and is a free add-on for Windows XP. While it is a good start, it is not nearly as powerful as either SpyBot Search & Destroy or Ad-Aware by Lavasoft. Either of those two programs can, again, be downloaded for free from the Internet. Although it is not a good idea to keep more than one anti-virus or anti-spyware program running at the same time, you can switch between them from time to time to make sure you catch everything.
There is a lot of debate on whether or not Macintosh owners need to run anti-virus software. Due to the nature of the Mac OS X operating system and the complete lack of viruses out for it at present, I do not recommend running anti-virus software. I do however recommend making sure that some filtering is done on email, either locally or by your provider, to make sure that viruses are not simply passed on to other users. This is especially important for people who exchange files with Windows users on a regular basis. If you insist on using one, give the freeware ClamXav a try. Of course this situation may change in the future.
Next time we will talk a little about the reverse side of security – making sure that users, be they young or old, don’t use your computer to access Internet sites or other resources that may be inappropriate.