Healthy PC
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Maintaining a Healthy Computer System

Whether you use your computer for business or for recreation, there are 4 important steps to keeping your computer working smoothly and with a minimal number of lock-ups. As a business should already have these protections in place, this discussion will be aimed at the home computer using Windows.

  1. Keep your software current

  2. Use and maintain anti-virus software

  3. Scan for malware

  4. Use a firewall

  5. Have a backup web browser downloaded

None of these need to cost you any additional money and can help keep your computer running in tip top shape. While the links provided here are for Windows based computers, these rules hold just as true for any operating system.

Keep Your Software Current

This first rule of thumb is to make sure you have the latest patches and updates to the software you computer uses. Starting with Windows 98, Microsoft began including the Windows Update option from your Start button to install important updates to your version of Windows. Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1 include it in your Control Panel.

Windows is not the only software you need to keep current. Java by Oracle and Flash by Adobe are two commonly used programs used in conjunction with surfing the web that are continually being updated to remove security issues. They also will install unwanted additional software if you use the default install settings so always use the custom install to bypass this.

 Use and Maintain Anti-Virus Software

One of the recurring news stories regarding computers seems to be related to viruses that are sent from one computer to another in an attempt to cause your computer to do something it would not normally do. While some viruses may just flash a message on your monitor telling you somebody got access, others can cause bigger headaches by altering your configuration or even erasing your hard drive.

Most computers sold today have anti-virus software already installed. Windows 8 and 8.1 come with Microsoft Defender already installed. Previous versions of Windows can use Microsoft Security Essentials which is a free download. While these Microsoft products do not provide the most robust protection, they do provide out-of-the-box security not previously available on new computers.

 Many users do not realize that they have to constantly update the virus library in order for their anti-virus software to catch any of the new viruses being found on a daily basis. If you have a paid anti-virus program, you must make sure to pay for the annual subscription or their program refuses to remove any detected viruses. It may only becomes apparent when something seems to be not-quite-right on the computer. Then you will find out that your software is out of date and may not fix your infection.

Fortunately, there are several online virus scanners that are available. A company called Trend Micro, provides an web site that can remotely scan your computer over the internet for viruses and tell you how to remove it if one is found. If you suspect you might have a virus, try Trend Micro's On-Line Virus Scan and see what it discovers. While it will not provide you with virus protection while surfing the web, it is always current and can help you track down and fix any virus your computer may catch.

If your computer does not currently have any anti-virus software, check out the links below for some of the popular currently packages available.

MacAfee Anti-Virus
Norton's Anti-Virus
PC-Cillin by Trend Micro

For computers that are used at home, GRI Soft provides an anti-virus program that you can download for free for personal use. Look for the AVG - Free Edition and protect that computer today!


Scan for Malware

Malware, also referred to as spyware, is not really a virus but can still be used to transmit personal information without your knowledge. These are commonly used by individuals or companies to record and track your surfing habits on the web to try and decide what kind of spam to send you.  Sometimes it is embedded within free software included with an application. Java and Flash updates are notorious for doing this. Other times, a web site will put a cookie on your system.

Paid anti-virus programs will likely have malware detection included with their product while free versions may not. There are two products on the market that lead the pack in detecting spyware on your computer.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware

SpyBot Search and Destroy by PepiMK Software

Both of these products are available is a free version that you can use to help add to the security of your system.  Be aware that the free versions do not provide ongoing protection but must be run manually in order to scan your system.


Use A Firewall

Firewalls are designed to prevent others from gaining access to your computer using internet ports without your knowledge. Computers with broadband access are especially susceptible to hackers looking for computers that have "always on" access to the internet to use for staging internet attacks. Many denial of services attacks are performed by planting viruses on unsuspecting computers designed to attack a specific web site at a specific time.

If you have a network, the easiest way to install a firewall is to use a router to connect your computers together. Most routers will have firewall software built into them. As with Windows, it is important to check periodically to see if any firmware updates exist for your router. Firmware is just a fancy name for the program that the router uses to do its job. The biggest advantage of using a router with a built-in firewall is that your computer does not have to run any firewall software. This leaves your computer free to do the tasks you want to  do without wasting computing horsepower to monitor your internet connection while you work. Microsoft provides a basic firewall with all supported versions of Windows but it provides only one-way protection.

If you don't have a router, you can still get good protection using a firewall program. One of the better products is called ZoneAlarm from Zone Labs, Incorporated. It provides an easy to use firewall that is free for home and non-profit use. For a free download of this product, or for more information, visit Zone Labs.


Have A Backup Web Browser Downloaded

Some viruses and malware will install add-ons into your browser that may prevent it from working correctly. Having a second browser downloaded and ready to install is a plan to insure you can access the web in the event you become infected in this manner. Chrome and FireFox are examples of commonly used browsers. Any browser that is already installed may become infected so it is a best practice to have the install files already on your computer but not actually installed.



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Last modified: 01/10/14.