Computer Hygiene suggestions

I’m frequently asked about software to eliminate spyware, spam and virus infections.  Here’s what I currently recommend:

If you are running Windows XP, make sure it is updated with _all_ of the updates available on Windows Update, especially SP2.  If you haven’t gotten SP2 and are still running dial-up, improve your life and get the cheapest broadband you can, then get SP2, or look at microsoft.com/windowsxp and look for a way to get a CD of it.  If you aren’t running XP, shame on you.  Ditch the old hack of a computer and upgrade.  XP SP2 has a fair amount of security enhancements in it.  Also, make sure that Windows Update is setup to automatically download and install updates at 3 or 4 a.m., and leave your computer on all the time to let it do the job.  Make sure you have Pop-up blocking turned on (Tools-PopUpBlocker).

Spyware control:  Make sure you have the latest versions of Ad-Aware (1.06), SpyBot Search & Destroy (1.4), and Microsoft AntiSpyware.  You can get the first 2 free from www.download.com, but you have to manually run and update them.  MS AntiSpyware is free from Microsoft.com, and is linked right on their homepage.  http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=321cd7a2-6a57-4c57-a8bd-dbf62eda9671&displaylang=en.  This one sets itself up the first time you run it to automatically update and scan.  I run this one continuously, and the other 2 every few weeks.  Note that Ad-Aware is a little confusing when you run it – it will give you a list of critical threats, but you must select each or all of them (right click-select all) and then click next to actually remove them; otherwise it just leaves them alone.  Ad-Aware finds stuff that SpyBot doesn’t and vice-versa.  Always download the latest definition updates with bot Ad-Aware and Spybot, and make sure you choose ‘Immunize’ with Spybot, which will silently block some of the bad stuff from getting loaded in the first place.  The MS product is Giant software’s product, and is considered best of breed, but isn’t available for Win9x/Me.

Antivirus:  Everybody needs a subscription to an antivirus program.  I still recommend Symantec’s products, although they’ve tightened up their licensing and it makes it tougher to get it onto cheap customer’s computers.  At the minimum, make sure you are running Norton Antivirus, and ensure that the virus definitions are less than 1 week old and that it has done a full scan in the last week.  If the Auto-Protect icon isn’t on down near the system time, get help, because it usually indicates trouble.  Norton Internet Security 2005 has AntiVirus, Internet Firewall and Antispam in one box for about $65 (1 year).  Note that the Antispam piece only works if you use Outlook or Outlook Express, although I think they might have added some extensions for Yahoo mail and the like.  AOL’s antispam is respectable at this point, but that’s the only nice thing I’ll say about AOL J.

If you’ve got P2P software like Kazaa on your system, you _will_ receive lots of infected stuff.  Move over to Azureus, a really good BitTorrent download manager instead.  You’ll have to find tracker sites, but the content is generally cleaner.  I’ve had a number of client systems that I’ve had to clean repeatedly because of Kazaa.

Phishing scams are a form of SPAM, and can only be controlled by AntiSpam products and common sense.  No reputable organization will ask you to reverify your information by emailing you a link to a form.  You can tell it’s a scam just by hovering your mouse pointer over the link – the actual like information will pop-up and will probably not match.  Most of the links will start with http://xxx.yyy.zzz.aaa (a bunch of numbers), instead of matching up with the text displayed. 

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