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Safe Computing: You Wouldn’t Ski Without A Helmet, Would You?

By Dave Potter

First of all, let me start off by saying that I’m by no means a computer expert. As I like to tell people, I know just enough to be dangerous.

My friends often bring me their computers when they start acting up. More often than not, I can solve most issues by using one or several free programs that I have learned about over the years. Notice that I said FREE! A friend of mine likes to say, “If it’s free, it’s me.”

Antivirus Protection

The first question I always ask is, “Do you have antivirus software installed?”

If you do, is it current and running? Or did you use the free trial when you purchased your computer and when it ran out and asked you to pay to continue using it, you decided you didn’t need it and let it lapse?

You are not protected if computer has antivirus software that has expired, because it can no longer update itself, creating a safe barrier between you and those nasty computer bugs just waiting to infest your computer.

If you don’t have the funds to purchase an antivirus program, what can you do? It’s easy. Download one of the free antivirus programs available on the internet from a reputable site.

I like to use AVG Free. Just go to http://free.avg.com/us-en/homepage, click the green download button and follow the directions. You can even schedule it to run automatically. But before you do that, you should uninstall your old antivirus program or, at the very least, disable it, because two antivirus programs won’t play nice together on the same computer.

Spyware and Popups

So, now you have antivirus protection. Whew … you’re safe now, right? Wrong!

The bad guys will still come at you with other malicious methods.

Are you getting popups when your browser isn’t even open? If you are, the chances are good that spyware is installed on your machine.

Spyware is software that self-installs without you even knowing it and covertly gathers information about your internet habits, which can include passwords and other sensitive information.

Again, there are a couple of free programs out there that can help.

Spybot Search & Destroy, http://download.cnet.com/Spybot-Search-Destroy/3000-8022_4-10122137.html, and Ad-Aware, http://download.cnet.com/Ad-Aware-Free-Antivirus/3000-8022_4-10045910.html are two good ones that have been faithful friends of my computer for years.

Unfortunately, these two programs are going to require a little more participation on your part. You should run these programs weekly, but you may be able to get by with just a monthly run. Luckily, they have very good help files and are somewhat intuitive to use.

Don’t Do It

One last word on popups — if you get one that says “your computer is infected, just click here and we’ll clean it for you,” DON’T! If you do click on the link, your machine will certainly be infected if it wasn’t before.

Malware for a DeepCleaning

Let’s say your machine is running slow, you’re getting popups and the hard drive light is always busy blinking, and Spybot or Ad-Aware don’t seem to be helping. There is one last-ditch, free program that might help — Malware Bytes at http://www.malwarebytes.org.

Again, just download and follow the instructions. Malware Bytes is a deep-cleaning, anti-bad-guy program.

If this doesn’t work, take your computer and some of your hard-earned cash to a professional and have them work on it. If you are as emotionally attached to your computer as I am, it’s worth every penny!

By Invitation Only

One last thing to remember — a lot of evil programs are “invited” into your computer. If you receive a strange email from a friend and it invites you click on a link for a joke or get a special offer with only a link in the body, DON’T click it.

If you receive an email and it appears to be from a company you trust, check the email address anyway. If the address seems strange (and includes gibberish or a name that doesn’t make sense), go to the company’s website directly through your browser and see if it matches the email address. It always pays to be a little suspicious.

A recent popup going around the internet comes from the “government” saying you have “illegal material on your computer.” Please do not click on the link provided. The bad guys are just trying to scare you into making a wrong move.

A simple rule is that if something looks suspicious, it probably is. I hope this helps and makes you more aware about safe computing.

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