Computer viruses are a fact of modern, internet-connected life. At best,
they’re annoying performance sucking beasts, but at worst … kiss all your
data good bye.
We all need to take steps to make sure that our computers
are safe, or we risk infection. Complacency is not an option.
And yet, even after all the news, and all the warnings, and after all this time …
complacency remains all too common.
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There are four important steps:
1. Install and Run an Anti-Virus Program
There are many out there.
Personally, I run Computer Associate’s eTrust
AntiVirus. It was the corporate standard solution where I
used to work, and has served me exceedingly well for several years now. I
have it scheduled to update signatures and scan every night.
I’ve also heard good things about Panda Antivirus,
AVG Anti Virus, and Kaspersky
Anti-Virus. Norton AntiVirus, now owned by
Symantec is also very popular. In particular,
Symantec maintains one of the best reference sites
for virus related security issues.
Free and On-Line Virus Scanners: I’ve learned that not all virus
scanners catch all viruses. I recommend having a selection of free virus
scanners to run as a “second tier”. AVG has a free
product. Trend Micro’s Housecall, and Panda’s Active Scan are on-line scanners that download as
an ActiveX control in your browser. Most downloadable virus scanning solutions
often include free trial periods that can also come in handy as one-time
Download and install the package of your choice. Now. Before you forget.
2. Update the Anti-Virus Database
Your first step should be to update the virus signature database that came
with the installation. New viruses are being created every day, and the
databases that the anti-virus programs use are being updated as well. You need
to get the latest database for your program right away.
Most of the programs have update functions that will locate, download and
install the latest databases automatically. Make sure that this is enabled.
3. Run Regular Scans
Most of the anti-virus programs work automatically. Once installed they are
configured to scan all incoming and outgoing files, and often hook into your
email in some way to double check that your received email is clean as
Unless you know what you’re doing, make sure that this “real time” scanning
I also recommend periodically running scans of your hard disk(s). Certainly
when you first install the software you should run a full scan. Then, depending
on how heavily used your machine is, you should run a scan periodically as
Some programs will allow you to schedule such a scan to happen
automatically. In my case, for example, since my computers are on 24 hours a
day, I schedule full virus scans nightly, while I’m asleep.
4. Keep Windows Up-To-Date
Visit Windows Update regularly,
or simply enable the automatic update feature in Windows XP.
All software has bugs. Some of those bugs are used to create the
exploits that virus writers take advantage of to create viruses that can infect
your system. As these bugs are found, Microsoft fixes the affected components
in the operating system, and makes those fixes available for download and
install using Windows Update.
The “problem”, is that even once the bugs are discovered and publicized, and
even when the fix is available, virus writers get busy writing viruses that
still exploit them. Why? Because they know not everyone stays
up-to-date. (As an example, one of my most popular articles here on Ask Leo! is being read by
thousands of people each month who are still being affected by a virus using an exploit
that was patched close to two years ago.)
Keep Windows up-to-date. Let someone else have the “fun” of being infected
with the latest viruses. Visit Windows
Update weekly, or enable automatic update.
Sadly, there is no “best” anti-virus program. Each may miss some something
that the other’s catch. That’s one of the reasons I list several. The best
advice is to use one, any one, and have the others “on call” for those cases
when spyware sneaks past the one you use regularly.
If you do install more than one package, you should not
enable the “real time” scanning for more than one at the same time – they will
conflict with each other, and will cause unpredictable results.