The basic elements needed to keep your Microsoft Windows® systems secure and running smoothly are fourfold:
Windows Updates, AntiVirus, AntiSpyware and a Firewall.
Assuming the system is used to access the Internet for mail and web browsing, these four elements should be adequate for basic protection of a typical home computer. Nothing will make your system invulnerable, but by ignoring any of these you put yourself at much greater risk.
Viruses are the long-time plague of e-mail users, Internet surfers and down-loaders. They are still out there and need to be kept in check. Keep your AntiVirus software up to date. If it gets more than 2 weeks out of date, then any new viruses will be able to sneak their way in.
I see countless clients who faithfully run their AntiVirus scan with virus protection software that is 1 to 5 years out of date. Even if your AntiVirus software says it is protecting you, it is only able to identify viruses it knows about.
Any of the major AntiVirus players will do a good job. There are free options available, for non-business users, which do a perfectly adequate job of protecting you (Google AVG free).
There is a fine line between what is a virus and what is spyware. I find the following general distinction to be useful. Viruses are motivated by malice and ego, while spyware is usually economically motivated.
Today spyware is much more widespread than are viruses. The affects of spyware can be far reaching – causing loss of personal information, system slowdowns and other annoying phenomena. The same rules apply to AntiSpyware that apply to AntiVirus software, including the availability of free (for home use) programs that will help protect you. More than one AntiSpyware program is often advisable (but only one at a time with realtime capabilities), since no one vendor can keep up with this plague. Every home XP system should have AntiSpyware installed – and , of course monitored. There are both free and paid options available for protection against spyware.
Any system connected to the Internet should have a firewall. This prevents outside intrusion into your system(s). Windows XP has a built in firewall that should work just fine for the average home user. There are many fine alternatives and one should be installed on any pre-XP Windows system if it accesses the Internet.
Microsoft provides access to periodic critical updates to their Windows Operating Systems. These updates usually address security and/or performance issues. Not having them in place increases your vulnerability. In other words, these updates often fix issues that have been exploited by virus software. Fix the weakness – and the virus can do you no harm even if it makes its way to your PC
Make sure Automatic Windows updates are enabled on your system if available, otherwise you need to do it manually every month or so (go to windowsupdate.microsoft.com). However you do it, get up to date and stay up to date.
All systems connected to the Internet need to have these 4 elements in place and kept up to date.
Ignore any of these basic safeguards at your own peril. If you are unsure about how to put these four pillars in place consult a professional.
Here’s wishing you safe computing.