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In this world of viruses, adware, malware and spyware, it really is best if you don't leave the doors of your computer open and unlocked. In response to a news story where Blade Runner was used as the image of the sort of world we should think we're now in, and as my brother-in-law was asking me just this week about what he needed to protect the family computer against the funny stuff going on, I thought I'd put a page up here as advice from a computer professional on those important things you need to protect the home computer, for the benefit of those who may not know these things:

There are four pieces of software that are absolutely essential after installing an operating system on a PC. The first is a good antivirus package - which you need to pay for - something like Norton or McAfee. Install, and set up with high security including checking e-mail attachments and scripts. Without antivirus software, it is just a matter of time before information on your computer is trashed, stolen or the computer is killed altogether.

The next program is a firewall. This has two functions. The first thing to know when you connect your computer to the internet is to realise that the internet is connected to your computer. So you must stop people getting onto your computer. Automated programs are pinging internet connections all the time, and some of these will be followed up if they successfully get through. So the firewall's first job is to stop the outside world accessing your computer when you're connected. The second job of the firewall is to stop anything already on your computer from connecting to the internet unless you want it to. Once you set up a firewall, it will ask you every time any program initially tries to connect. Obviously, you will say yes, always allow my browser (e.g. Internet Explorer), to connect, and e-mail, etc. But if something strange tries to connect, you can say no, I don't want you to connect. Try the most commonly used which is completely free to home users: ZoneAlarm.

Once you have that set up, you will be able to block malware and spyware from connecting to the internet, but that still won't stop it actually getting onto your computer. For that you need a Spyware Blocker. Spyware is mostly advertising based - chucking up ads and also tracking your internet surfing activities, but may be more malicious than that, so of course you don't want it on your computer. These may get in via e-mail, via code on websites or even random attacks. To defeat this, you need something like SpywareBlaster, also free. (Note though that some "free" software used for mp3 downloads or the like operates with spyware included in it - disabling the spyware also disables the program.)

Finally, although SpywareBlaster stops most nasties getting onto your computer, you may already have some spyware or worse already there (which is definitely the case if you have unknown software trying to dial out), so you need to install Ad-Aware - also free. Note that if spyware some is already running, it might not be able to be deleted on the first scan of the software, but may need to be deleted on reboot - the Ad-Aware program should handle this.

Now, of course these free softwares have higher level versions or auto-upgrades, etc. available for a cost, but you really are okay with free versions of the last three things for home use. But you really must pay for your antivirus software and ensure regular upgrades (which with the latest software should be automated).

Set up your antivirus software to do a complete sweep of the computer perhaps once a week (e.g. 4 am on a Monday morning - of course the computer must be on when it runs). If it is set up to automatically deal with anything infected, you should be fine. Then also regularly check for adware, etc.

Keep your waste basket clean. On Windows, files and stuff that you delete don't actually get deleted if you do a straight delete. They get virtually put in the waste basket, but they are still actually there on the drive. You probably already know this, but just in case, check your waste basket isn't full of rubbish. Empty it. Same goes for C:\WINDOWS\TEMP - anything not actively being used is rubbish. Delete the files in this folder. In fact, it is quite useful to have some sort of cleanup utility (of which there are many) as there are numerous files that get loaded onto the system, such as those ending in .tmp that can be safely deleted, but they are tedious to find manually.

I'm sure that is plenty to be playing with. At the very least, you should end up with a PC that is clean and can resist attacks from "out there".

Oh, yeah - of course you know not to open any executables attached to e-mail .. such as anything ending in .exe or .bat or .com or .scr ... even if, or perhaps especially if, it comes from someone you know, unless you know absolutely that person is sending you this thing on purpose, (which is unlikely). I get dozens of these daily. And because my various e-mail addresses have been around so long, I get literally hundreds of spam messages per day, as well as loads of false-return mails (where the From address of an e-mail is entered from the same spam-list as the To address, and is bounced back to me even though it didn't actually originate from my machine or Web Servers.) So you may want to think about anti-spam software, although e-mail filters go a long way towards fixing this and your ISP may have these available before the e-mail gets as far as your in-box.


This page will be updated as necessary and probably moved onto another website when I get around to it, but here it is for now. Anyone wanting to make suggestions or corrections please do let me know.

Of course this advice is offered freely, but your computer protection is your responsibility. I am not affiliated in any way with any companies mentioned and there are many alternatives to any of the specific software mentioned. It is your free choice to install any of these or anything similar or not. No guarantees are expressed or implied by the above advice. (Basically don't come crying to me if your computer gets infected.) This is also not a licence to ask me all your technical questions - (a) I am not a PC guru and (b) I'm not running an advice column. But here are some places you might like:, PC Pitstop, BrowserTune2000, PC Help