Not long ago, sick computers gave us little warning. The problem may have been physical, like a bad hard drive. Or there could’ve been software causing problems. Whatever the cause, the result was dramatic and obvious. You’d have a complete system freeze, perhaps accompanied by the legendary Microsoft “blue screen of death”.
Today’s computers give us more warning before a problem. This is good, because in an age of intelligent virus, adware and spyware creators, computers have many reasons to get sick. System slowdowns, Internet connection problems and frequent pop-up windows can all be signs of an infection from a virus, spyware or adware.
We must be able to do two things, fix and monitor. Think of a school playground, with fifty children running around happily. A playground supervisor notices a problem. Little Christina is sitting under the jungle gym crying, as she’s fallen and scraped her knee. The supervisor takes her to a nurse who fixes the scrape.
Another supervisor notices trouble brewing. Big Lenny and his gang are throwing wood chips at the fourth-graders. But before things get worse, the supervisor puts a stop to it, and the playground remains at peace.
Your computer is an electronic playground, with lots of programs running around trying to play together happily. We need the ability to fix any existing problems, like the school nurse. We also need full-time protection from playground supervisors to prevent problems before they get started.
While the commercial security suites work very well for comprehensive system protection, there are still many effective free tools. Depending on the situation, some even outperform the commercial competition.
This is somewhat of a subjective choice, as the big players in the antivirus area perform pretty much the same. The finer points determining this recommendation have to do with system performance, user interface, compatibility and reliability.
avast! Home Edition
AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition
These are among the best of the free antivirus programs available. Each has the restriction that they must be installed on home PCs and can not be used in commercial or for-profit use. Both software packages give users automatic updates, virus removal tools and full-time system and email monitoring.
Antispyware and Antiadware Software
Currently the best of the commercial choices out there.
Install on any Windows 2000 or later PC. This is a new product from Microsoft still in testing stages. As such, it will only function for a limited time, but rumblings from Microsoft indicate this will continue to be available for free. While I rarely recommend limited-use software, it’s included here because it works extremely well. Use it for on-demand removal or full-time system monitoring.
Ad-Aware SE Personal
Provides on-demand removal of spyware and adware. Use this tool to clean an already infected system.
Spybot Search and Destroy
Provides on-demand removal of spyware and adware, as well as limited system monitoring. The interface and information presented is intended for more technically-comfortable users.
Microsoft Malware Removal Tool
This is a more limited tool, but for those who require it, it works fine. Per Microsoft:
"The Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool checks computers running
Windows XP, Windows 2000, and Windows Server 2003 for infections by specific,
prevalent malicious software—including Blaster, Sasser, and Mydoom—and helps remove any infection found."
It’s frustrating to add more complexity to our computers, but tools like these are a requirement in today’s more dangerous electronic playground. Climb on the jungle gym all you want, but make sure you’re playing safe.