Want to keep your computer running efficiently and keep your data safe? Then you will need a few extra software programs to complement your operating system. Fear not, you don’t need to fork out any more hard-earned cash on such software, as the products below will cover your computer’s vulnerable points at zero cost.
A good anti-virus product is perhaps the most essential software to have installed as soon as you get a new computer. Use of a computer, and especially browsing on the internet, without a solid anti-virus program is a sure recipe for disaster. There are tens of thousands of computer viruses out there and new ones being created every day, and you can bet one or more of them will soon find their way amongst your precious data if you are not protected. A good anti-virus software will monitor your files in real-time for any malicious software, and also scan your email attachments and new files being introduced onto your computer through for example CDs or memory cards.
Avira AntiVir Personal, available from http://bit.ly/hyWJ is an excellent anti-virus which does not consume a lot of computer resources and does the essential job of keeping viruses away from your computer. Other excellent alternatives are AVG Free (http://bit.ly/IXGtw) and Avast! Free (http://bit.ly/8bcLxX).
The internet is by its nature a very liberal space and we don’t necessarily want it to be so, especially when letting young children browse the internet at home or at school. For parents who are worried about what their children might gain access to while they are not being supervised, I suggest using child protection software.
By far my favourite in this area is K9 Web Protection (http://bit.ly/qHnH), which has all the features one would expect from an Internet filtering and control solution. Once installed you can set a master password that gives you access to K9’s settings panel, and then either choose from a number of preset protection levels or manually set the content categories you would like to block. K9 will then connect to its database whenever you are online, and make sure that websites falling into the selected categories are blocked. By preventing access to suspicious and generally ‘bad’ sites, you also have the benefit of reducing the possibility of spyware and other unwanted software entering your computer. K9 also has the useful feature of restricting access to the internet for certain times of the day, which can be used to control the time that children spend browsing the internet.
Anti-virus programs do not really protect from hacking attacks and that is why you also need a strong firewall installed on your computer to further enhance your protection on the internet.
ZoneAlarm (http://bit.ly/9Rxjv0) has been around for many years, is compatible with all the major anti-virus programs and has consistently received excellent reviews. One of the features I like about ZoneAlarm is its ability to block phishing websites that attempt to trick you into revealing personal data by posing as genuine sites (such as bank or social networking sites). It is an excellent all-round firewall that will keep out any malicious inbound connections, essentially keeping your PC invisible online. As regards to outbound (data travelling out of your computer), ZoneAlarm will block spyware, botnets, and other malware from sending your personal data out to the internet. Of course, it is even better to ensure such pests aren’t on your computer in the first place, which leads us onto the next software covering the area of Spyware protection.
Spyware and adware
Spyware and adware (collectively referred to as malware) will eventually find its way onto the computer of even the most cautious internet user. The only way to keep away the annoying pop-up windows that characterize an adware infection, is to make sure you regularly scan your computer with software such as Spybot Search & Destroy (http://bit.ly/KZge). Spybot can be scheduled to automatically scan your computer and remove adware. It will also find and remove spyware, which is a type of software that doesn’t make its presence obvious but can be quite dangerous as its job is to nose about your files looking for tasty information such as credit card numbers and email contacts to send back to its creator. Another immensely popular free anti-spyware program is Ad-Aware Free (http://bit.ly/y7Pj).
The key concept when protecting your computer is that prevention is so much better than cure, a few minutes spent downloading and installing the software above will go a long way in ensuring you have an enjoyable and hassle free experience with your computer. Also make sure to set the software to automatically update or take care of manually updating them yourself. Remember that a non-updated anti-virus or anti-spyware program will be severely limited in its ability to detect new strains of viruses and malware.
This article was published in August 2010 on the Technology Sunday, a technology supplement of the Times of Malta on Sunday.