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Computer security scams, and how to test your antivirus software

January 1, 2009

in All Articles,Viruses / malware / scams

“Your PC needs a tune-up – click HERE to begin!”

“Make your PC go faster for FREE!”

“You’re being spied on – protect yourself NOW!”

What do these sentences have in common, apart from the gratuitous capitalization and pointless exclamation marks? That’s right – they’re Internet ads that most everyone is exposed to. I get a lot of questions about ads like these. Are we really being spied on? Should we pay someone else to give our PCs a tune-up? There are two important things to remember here. One, if you have anything important on your computer you should back it up. Then if something bad happens, no problem – you’ve still got your data. Two, the above advertising is most likely exaggerating the real facts.

There are indeed tune-ups available for your PC. These tune-ups might (but probably won’t) increase your PC’s speed.

The last ad example is a little different. The link will most likely point you to software that provides hacker and virus protection. There are a lot of providers out there. If you go to your local computer store, you’ll see a shelf with twenty tools meant to protect you from bad guys. There are plenty of services to choose, and it’s difficult to tell what’s what. Let’s wipe the metaphorical shelf clean, and look at what’s really important here.

There are two things you should be aware of when setting up protection for your PC. If you have an understanding of these two points, you’ll have gone a long way in protecting yourself.

Antivirus software
This is software that costs about $50. It provides full-time protection from viruses. For example, if your well-meaning but ill-informed boss accidentally emails you a virus, this software will intercept the virus immediately and prevent it from harming your PC. The top two antivirus providers are McAfee and Norton.

When you buy antivirus software, remember you’re also buying a service. Just like getting a flu shot, your computer needs to be given regular “inoculations” to become aware about the latest viruses out there. Purchasing the software above gives you one free year of these inoculations. After that year ends, you can renew the subscription at a cost of under $20 yearly. Don’t forget: When installing and configuring your antivirus software, have it inoculate itself (usually called “update the virus definition files”) at least once a week. If you don’t do this, the software won’t be aware of any new viruses.

A firewall will provide extra protection against hackers and some kinds of viruses. Both companies mentioned above also provide firewall software, either separately or as an add-on to the antivirus software. Do you really need a firewall? To figure that out, take this easy test: Do you have a broadband connection (like a cable modem or DSL)? Do you leave your PC on all the time? Do you have more than one computer sharing your internet connection? If you’ve got two or three “yes” answers, I recommend you invest in a firewall.

Finally, what can you do if you think you have a virus but don’t have any antivirus software? Go to this link:

They provide free virus scanning and cleaning on demand – not a replacement for an “always-on” virus scanning program – but still a very handy service!

To test if your antivirus software is working properly, you can go here:

This site has a “sample virus” you can download. It won’t harm your computer in any way, it doesn’t do anything except flag antivirus software, and can be confidently used for testing purposes.

There are more advanced problems people may have, like “spyware” or “adware” or “orange juice spilled on the keyboard”, but the tips above give you a good start on protecting your system. Clicking HERE for a BETTER! FASTER! and FRIENDLIER! computer might sound like a good idea, but I feel warmer and fuzzier knowing the solution for myself.

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