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I’ve got viruses!

A good friend of mine had just started his first real job as a computer technician when he received a frantic call from a user. “I’ve got viruses”, the worried voice exclaimed. In short order, my friend was able to calm the frantic accountant down and clean his computer of the offensive bugs.

Viruses, worms, spyware and adware are ever present dangers to personal computers and potentially to all of the data that resides on them. First, let’s define the differences in these bugs.
Malware is a term that covers pretty much any program that can cause harm to your computer or otherwise interfere with your ability to use it properly.  A virus is malicious software that relies on some interaction from a user to move from computer to computer, this can be by unknowingly copying it to a disk, USB drive or it can even be transferred by email. A worm on the other hand can copy itself from system to system all by itself, the transfer is part of the underlying programming.  Spyware is software that obtains information from a computer without the users knowledge. The information collected can be user names and passwords, credit card information, or even documents stored on your computer.  Adware is software that annoyingly displays advertisements despite tour best efforts to ignore them.

These four definitions pretty much cover the range of nasties that can cause pain to you and your computer, I’ll use the term Malware from here because it encompasses all four.  Unlike viruses that affect humans and animals, these are not naturally occurring, they didn’t sprout up from the depths of the Internet to take control of unwary computer users.  Malware, like any other software, had to be created by a person.  Unlike most software, the intent here is not to provide you with a useful way to manage your music, or browse the web.  Malware is written to cause harm to your PC, capture information to be used for fraud, or most often, just to show off mad teen angst ridden programing skills.

So what can you do to keep your computer and your beloved data safe from harm? There’s a lot you can do, and it’s actually all pretty basic stuff and can be broken down into three areas.

  • Prevention and Protection
  • Good computer habits
  • Disinfection and cleanup

Prevention and Protection – There’s really only one method to worry about here, and it’s the installation and maintenance of a good Antivirus software.  There’s plenty of packages available for purchase, McAfee and Symantec are the big dogs and both cost around $50 a year.  There’s also some decent free solutions available, both Avast and AVG provide good protection and I’ve personally used both with good results.

Only install one Antivirus package on your PC! If you want to change, make sure you remove the old package before installing the new one.  Running more than one can really bog your system down.

The best Antivirus software in the world is no good if it’s not up to date.  These systems use definition files to properly identify the bad stuff before it get’s to your PC.  Think of this as a reference chart for the software to use, it makes comparisons to the definitions to see if what’s coming in is good or bad.  Definition files are updated on a regular basis, sometimes daily.  Check the settings in your software and make sure that it’s set to automatically check and update your definitions every day.

Run regular scans.  Again, check the settings in your software to make sure that Real Time Scanning is enabled, this is what actively looks at files entering and leaving your computer.  Also enable scheduled scans, these run at off times to check what’s already on your computer.

Set your software to automatically Quarantine items that it thinks may be infected.  By quarantining an infected file, you have to opportunity to try clean it up and restore it instead of just deleting it.

Good Computer Habits – Following a few common sense guidelines can go a long way to keeping your computer clean.

  • Read error messages! They mean something, and you could just be giving someone permission to install unwanted software.
  • Be careful where you surf. If you go exploring the seedier side of the Internet, you just might come back with a little something extra. ‘Nuff said?
  • Don’t Download that Song. I’m not going to get into the legality or morality of download music, movies and software, but be aware that LimeWire, KaZaa, and BitTorrent sites are full of bad stuff posing as the next hit from Justin Bieber (okay, that’s just understood, but you get my point).
  • Backup, backup, backup – Make a habit of backing up files you can’t live without. We keep a lot of our lives on our computers. Copy files to CDs, thumb drives or use an online service like Carbonite

Disinfection and Cleanup – So despite your best efforts, you were unlucky enough to get something nasty on your computer. What do you do now? Start by running a scan with your antivirus software if you can. There’s numerous free tools available for download that can remove most malware from your computer. MalWareBytes, Ad-Aware and Spybot Search & Destroy are a few good ones that even have free versions.  If all else fails, call a professional, most have flat rates for removing malware from computers and many make house calls.

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About Todd E. Grady

I'm a dad, husband, IT guy and geek of all trades.

Posted on 10.18.2010, in General Geekery and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. This is GREAT! I need to share this. I never really knew the difference between those types of malware and I think that some of of us just end up using the phrase “virus” for everything.

    I use the free AVG and have never had a problem.

  2. I just saw that AVG released a new version AVG 2011 and it’s got some great features in it. I’m downloading it now.

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