The Infection Protection Proclamation

One of the most frequent questions I get, as a tech professional is, “how do I keep my computer clean from viruses?” The thing you have to remember is there isn’t anything that’s 100% effective. When it comes to viruses you have to think in terms of your own health. I hear every day, “well, I just paid this amount of money for this awesome antivirus, so how did I get infected?!”  Ask yourself this; if you were to get a flu shot are you guaranteed to not get the flu this year? If you say yes to that then you don’t need an anti virus on your computer. Feel free to surf the net all day long unprotected.  I mean, hey, what are the odds right? For the rest of us, though, I’m going to talk about how I keep my PC free of the evils of the internet.

What is a Computer Infection? 

Computer infections can be one of the scariest things online; that is,  unless you have some really sick friends that enjoy sending you links to adult sites containing things that would make Hannibal Lector say, “that’s twisted”. When we talk infections there is a broad spectrum of categories; trojans, rootkits, spyware, worms, adware, and the list can go on and on. Each infection can be defined differently; and each has its own purpose, but for us an infection is any unwanted software that’s malicious. You can take all the precautions you want, but chances are you’re going to get a virus on your machine.  I don’t care if you find an AV that’s $500 and claims it’s the best thing since that scene in CSI where Justin Bieber gets shot; it WILL NOT catch everything that comes through the internet.

Let’s say John Hacker is sitting at his computer, right now, developing a nasty program that will log every keystroke made on your computer and send it back to him.  If you have sensitive data on your PC then there is a real good chance he has your sensitive data on his PC as well.  Now, companies whose mission it is to help fight the threats can’t predict how John Hacker’s key logger infection is going to act so they have to receive data from their customers who have been infected so that they can counteract the problem.  The easiest way to explain it is; doctors can’t predict what the next deadly disease is going to be and start working on the cure before the disease even exists.  It works the same with computers and the internet.

How do I Protect Myself? 

There are hundreds of products and programs out there to keep your computer clean.  There are a wide variety of anti viruses that range from free to way too much that do way too little and if you’re anything like me you want to use something that works great and is cheap or free.  In this economy you see a penny you pick that sucker up whether it’s on heads or tails.  Some are really user friendly and some are annoying and pop up every 3 seconds asking if you want to let Farmville access the web. Pro tip: when taking your computer to be repaired don’t ask them to put a rush on it because your crops might die.  Seriously.  Personally, I prefer the less complex anti viruses like Microsoft Security Essentials .  It’s incredibly simple to use and very user friendly.  I happen to run this as my AV because of its simplistic user interface and well, because it’s free.  If Microsoft offers you something for free you use it and you use the crap out of it.  Security Essentials can be set up to run whenever you want and how ever thoroughly you want it to scan. It will also run and update all by its lonesome.  I don’t believe I have had to touch it since I installed it.  Of course that’s just my personal preference, though.  Different people will have different opinions on what AV is better.  You might like Chevy and I might like Ford and we’ll argue about which one is better.  It’s all a matter of opinion. Now, don’t go install it and think you’re free to surf the web without the fear of infection.  As I said, NOTHING is 100% effective.  “But Bo, can’t I just install another antivirus?  Won’t that protect me even that much more?” I’ll put it to you like this; let’s make AV A and B a couple of drunken guys fighting over a pretty girl (your computer).  While the guys are bickering back and forth about who’s going to buy her a drink Charlie Sheen (a computer virus) swoops in and nabs her….winning.  Having more than one AV on your computer has the same effect.  They will fight each other for control and an infection will sneak past them and attack your PC.  When you install some anti viruses they will attach themselves to every corner of your computer and become almost impossible to remove after they expire or when you want to install a new AV. It’s extremely important that you uninstall any AV on your PC before you install another.

When it comes to other infection protection you have quite a few options there, as well. Malware and spyware scanners often don’t run in real time so you will have to scan on your own.  Computers are just like a car and you have to keep up maintenance on them.  Unlike anti viruses, you can have multiple scanners installed on your computer.  You have to be careful though because some of them aren’t that great and they, themselves, can cause a lot of problems.  By running a program called Malware Bytes you can pick up things that your AV may have missed.  I usually run my copy about once a month.  It’s completely free and a tool that some of the best techs take advantage of.  Malware Bytes is another piece of software that is simple to use.  When you open it up it will prompt you to update and after it finishes you’re free to run a complete scan or a quick scan.  Again, it all depends on your preference.

Anything Else? 

One of the last things I’ll talk about is an add-on for the browser Firefox.  The Web of Trust is an add-on that is used by fellow internet surfers to rate websites on their content.  If you need to Google, “where can I get a leg lamp like the one Ralphie’s dad had in a Christmas Story” then you will be shown which sites are safe and which are not.  A little green circle beside each search result tells you that that site is safe to use.  If you happen to see a yellow circle then you should be cautious and a red one means you should back up all of your important information and be prepared to spend money to have your computer wiped out and your operating system reinstalled if you click on the link.  I use this add-on religiously and you should too.  Especially if you use Firefox as your main browser.

Please be careful when opening emails that seem strange to you. Be cautious when going to web sites you’re not familiar with. These tools are 90% effective. The other 10% is up to you.

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