When you spend hundreds of dollars on a new computer, you want it to stay in tip-top shape. Here's the three basic things you need to do.
First of all, if you're using Windows, make sure it's up-to-date. To update manually, just click "Start", then "Programs," then go to Windows Update. Click on "Windows Update.” This will take you to the Microsoft Windows Update Web page. Just follow the directions on the screen. I suggest you only download "Critical Updates.” If you’re using Windows XP as your operating system, it's critical you put Service Pack 2 on your computer (most new computers come with Windows XP). SP2 is a comprehensive security update from Microsoft.
Learn more and download it by clicking on this Web page: www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/sp2/default.mspx.
To see what version of Windows you're running, right click on "My Computer" then click on "Properties.” This will open up the "System Properties" dialogue box. Just click on the "General" tab. There you'll see everything you need to know about your operating system (Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows ME, etc.).
Once you download SP2, you can set your computer to check for Windows Updates automatically. Just click on "Start", then "Control Panel", then click on "Security Center" and just follow the directions on the screen.
Once you’re at the Security Center, you can also make sure your Firewall is turned on. Just click on "Windows Firewall". While not full-proof, the firewall with SP2 is better than nothing.
A firewall monitors and limits information that travels between your computer and a network like the Internet. Think of it like a fence around your house.
In Windows XP, if you're using Service Pack 2, your firewall is turned on automatically. If you'd like an extra level of protection, you can buy a firewall software program or put your computer on a router.
Zone Alarm is good program and has a free version. You can download Zone Alarm here: www.zonelabs.com/store/content/catalog/products/sku_list_za.jsp.
Firewalls from Symantec and McAfee are also good, but will cost you about 35-50 bucks.
You can download Symantec's firewall here: www.symantec.com/sabu/nis/npf/.
You can download McAfee's firewall here: http://us.mcafee.com/root/package.asp?pkgid=101&WWW_URL=www.mcafee.com/myapps/firewall/ov_firewall.asp.
Third, you also need to make sure you have both anti-virus and anti-spyware programs, and make sure both are up-to-date.
A computer virus according to Whatis.com is "a program or programming code that replicates by being copied or initiating its copying to another program, computer boot sector or document. Viruses can be transmitted as attachments to an e-mail note or in a downloaded file, or be present on a diskette or CD. The immediate source of the e-mail note, downloaded file, or diskette you've received is usually unaware that it contains a virus. Some viruses wreak their effect as soon as their code is executed; other viruses lie dormant until circumstances cause their code to be executed by the computer. Some viruses are benign or playful in intent and effect ("Happy Birthday, Ludwig!") and some can be quite harmful, erasing data or causing your hard disk to require reformatting. A virus that replicates itself by resending itself as an e-mail attachment or as part of a network message is known as a worm."
A great free anti-virus program is "AVG" from Grisoft. You can dowload it here: free.grisoft.com/freeweb.php/doc/2.
Symantec (Norton Anti-Virus) and McAfee both make great programs, but they'll cost you about $30-$50. You can download Norton Anti-Virus by Norton here: www.symantecstore.com/dr/sat1/ec_MAIN.Entry17c?CID=39910&SID=27674&SP=10007&PN=5&PID=
McAfee's Anti-Virus can be downloaded here: http://us.mcafee.com/root/package.asp?pkgid=100.
Spyware is what most people have problems with on their computers. According to Whatis.com, spyware "is any technology that aids in gathering information about a person or organization without their knowledge.”
On the Internet (where it is sometimes called a spybot or tracking software), spyware is programming that is put in someone's computer to secretly gather information about the user and relay it to advertisers or other interested parties.
At best, spyware or adware, whatever you call it, keeps track of where you go on the Internet without your knowledge. At worst, it can hijack your browser settings for your Internet connection (make your start page something you don't want it to be) and it can bombard you with incessant pop-ups you're constantly having to click to get rid of.
Most spyware is perfectly legal, but can signifcantly slow down your computer, which is bad, so how does it get on your computer? Generally, it comes as part of something you download on the Internet. That's why it's best not to download anything unless you're 100% positive where it comes from and what effect it will have on your computer.
As far as spyware cleaning programs go, I recommend Spybot Search and Destroy and Ad-Aware. Both are free. Spybot S&D can be downloaded here: www.safer-networking.org/en/index.html.
Ad-Aware can be downloaded here: www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware. Pest Patrol is a great program, but will cost you about 30 bucks to download. Pest Patrol can be downloaded at this address: store.ca.com/dr/sat3/ec_MAIN.Entry?CID=0&SID=35715&SP=10007&DSP=0&CUR=840&PGRP=0&CACHE_ID=0.
Microsoft has just released its own free spyware removal program. It's in the beta stage, which means it's still being tested. I'm testing it over the next couple of weeks and will let you know what I think.
If you'd like to test it yourself, go to this Web page: www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx.