Securing Your PC on €0.00 a Day

With the advent of "always-on" internet connections, the risks posed by viruses and so-called "adware," "spyware," and "malware" have become a constant thundercloud, threatening (at best) to slow down your computer and internet connection and (at worst) to compromise personal information like credit card numbers, online banking passwords, and social security information. In the worst cases, your computer can become a "zombie," helping to carry out attacks against other computers, all behind your back.

The IT industry, of course, has responded to these developments with a plethora of "internet security" software designed to capitalize on your worries and woes. Worst of all, though, is that most of this paid software is unnecessarily vigilant, eating up valuable system resources while creating as many problems as they solve. Luckily for you, there are a few excellent pieces of anti-virus software out there that cost you absolutely nothing and keep some of the tightest security available.

Arguably the best anti-virus software out there is AVG Free Anti-Virus, produced by Grisoft (free.grisoft.com). It's completely free, downloads new virus definitions and program updates daily, and is automatically configured to scan your entire computer every morning. Moreover, AVG remains constantly vigilant, identifying viruses before they're given a chance to run on your computer. AVG Free Anti-Virus even scans your emails for potentially threatening file attachments, quarantining them before you even have a chance to inadvertently open them. Although Grisoft does offer paid versions of their anti-virus software, AVG Free is perfectly capable of protecting your computer from almost anything the internet can throw at it. It's important to note, however, that AVG, like most anti-virus software, is designed to be "stand-alone," meaning that it doesn't play well with other anti-virus software, and shouldn't be installed over or alongside pre-existing anti-virus or internet security software suites.

Most computers these days come with anti-virus software pre-installed (often Symantec's Norton Internet Security or Kaspersky Lab's Internet Security), but these software suites are well-known to hog valuable system resources and bandwidth and tend to come configured to as excessively overprotective as a father on prom night. It's highly advisable to remove the pre-installed software and immediately install a sleeker, more robust alternative like AVG Free Anti-Virus.

Recently fears of so-called "spyware" have prompted PC users to seek more "fully-featured," and usually costly, internet security suites. These anti-spyware programs will almost invariably identify harmless cookies used by online advertisers as "spyware," mostly to convince users that their purchase (and continued payment) is justified. The nature of the "personal information" recorded by these advertising cookies is almost invariably anonymous data, focused on tracking browsing tendencies to allow advertisers to deliver more targeted advertisements. In truth, these programs are much more trouble than they're worth, often forcing users to log into their favorite websites every time they visit, even if they've elected to be "remembered" by the site.

The same caveat applies to the "firewalls" common to most internet security suites, a feature that's been rendered redundant since the release of Windows XP's Service Pack 2. At best they offer an unnecessary second-line of defense, and at worst they block legitimate software's ability to communicate with the internet, particularly file-sharing protocols like BitTorrent.

Having good browsing habits and a suspicious eye for details are more important than having the best anti-virus software, though. Don't click links in emails, even if they appear to be coming from websites or institutions you've registered with - instead, visit those sites directly through your web browser. When installing programs, always ensure that you're downloading them from legitimate sites, and be suspicious of any executable files sent to you over email, even if they appear to be arriving from familiar sources. Avoid installing software produced by companies whose names you don't recognize, and when in doubt, check things out on a popular search engine like Google before installing.

Anti-virus software is a lot like a condom - it only works if you put it on first, and it doesn't make up for unwise decision-making. Follow a few simple, common-sense rules and you'll keep your computer as safe as this writer's is - 100% free of viruses, 100% of the time. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you haven't heard of a piece of software, there might be a reason for that: it may not be legitimate. And most of all, whenever in doubt, always research things online first - a few extra seconds never hurt anyone, but haste certainly has.




author: Robert Bono

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