How do I protect my PC against viruses and get rid of them?

Viruses are not the only forms of malicious code that may invade your system. Worms, Trojans, adware, spyware, key loggers together with viruses form part of malware running in the wild that may seriously harm your system and your data while also hogging system resources, reducing PC performance and Internet bandwidth. Here are seven ways of protecting yourself against malware.

Today, security threats come in all shapes and sizes and from a variety of sources including software downloads, peer-to-peer networks (e.g., Kazaa), floppies, CD or DVDs, emails and their attachments, chat rooms, your colleagues on the network and the Internet in general.

So, how can you protect your system and your data in the midst of so many security threats coming from so many different sources?

Malware Everywhere

Just imagine, malware has been around for almost 25 years already and, every year, millions of people and businesses lose valuable data to viruses, Trojans, worms and other related malicious code. At times, this data is irrecoverable. The malware toll is not only on your data but also on your system settings and resources, PC performance and Internet connections making it impossible to work or play without adequate protection.

This article is divided into two parts - the first part explains what you should do to protect yourself against viruses, worms, and Trojans, while the second part explains how you can fight spyware and related forms of malware.

For a full explanation of viruses, Trojans and worms and the damage that may be done to your system read Malware: Wading through the Jargon.

6 Ways of Fighting Viruses, Worms and Trojans

1. Update your Operating System Regularly

The first step to protecting your PC and your valuable data is to ensure that the operating system (OS) is updated with the latest security patches. This is critical as OS manufacturers such as Microsoft Windows update security features of their products continuously to cover any potential and actual loopholes.

To check whether you have the latest update, click on the Start Menu->All Programs and select the Windows Update icon:

Windows will take you to

Click on the appropriate button to download and install and required updates. We usually advise that this be done at least once every two weeks.

2. Buy Good Anti-Virus Software

Secondly you should have updated anti-virus software running on your system.

Make sure to choose one of the better ones on the market today - a few dollars won't break you but malware will.

Make sure that the anti-virus software is updated frequently (sometimes even daily if needs be) with fixes to the actual engine and to the database files that contain the latest cures against new viruses, worms and Trojans.

The anti-virus software must have the ability of scanning email and files as they are downloaded from the Internet to help prevent malware reaching your system. You should also make sure that the anti-virus software chosen awards you protection while on the Internet.

3. Know your Processes

Knowing what is running on your computer will increase your ability to identify potential harmful processes.

Call up the Windows Task Manager (press CTRL+ALT+DEL) and familiarise yourself with the processes running at any point in time.

Many are using to learn about the processes they have running on their computer. This website is a free resource library containing a comprehensive description of over 9000 that may be running on your computer. Searching for the processes is similar to using a search engine - type in the process name and returns the full description including information on security threat levels if any and ways on removing the malicious code.

If you don't want to go through the rigmarole of typing in the search, has an InfoBar which is essentially a plug-in for your Task Manager. You may download this free of charge (not a trial version) from here.

Just click on the i-button next to process and you can pull down information from the Internet regarding the process in question. With the Task Manager and process library data you can identify some of the threats. We say some because the Task Manager does not show you all the processes and dll's running at any point in time. For that you need a more powerful tool (such as WinTasks, read, WinTasks 5.0 Professional Unplugged - A Tutorial Guide).

4. Use Firewalls on the Internet

You should also seriously consider installing firewall software or using the native Windows firewall.

To activate your Windows Firewall click on your control panel and select Windows Firewall. Switch the firewall on by ticking the "On" radio button.

A good firewall prevents unauthorised use and access to your computer from external sources (e.g. hackers or hijackers) plus giving you additional protection against the more common Trojans and worms. A firewall on its own will not get rid of the virus problem but when used in conjunction with your OS updates, anti-virus software and information, it will give you deeper system security and protection.

5. Know your Registry

The latest statistics show that about 94% of computers have corrupt and possibly harmful files. On average, almost each PC will have about 150+ errors on them due to registry fragmentation, and corrupt, unused, missing, orphaned or obsolete entries.

Residual files, unused and undeleted drivers, and corrupt or bad entries in registry settings will quickly litter even the newest of computers.The result? Frequent error messages, slow start-ups, declining and poor performance and registry integrity, unstable and frequent application errors and crashes, and, at times, even an inability to start Windows.

Some malware does effect your registry. If you keep your registry clean and know what is inside, you will be in a better position to realise immediately when performance has taken a downturn. We advise you to invest in a good registry cleaner, one that allows you to scan your registry deeply and fix all errors. Moreover, the cleaner must be able to backup your registry.

6. Backup your data

Prevention is better than cure however you may still catch a virus no matter how tight your security is. It is always advisable to backup all your data regularly - at least once a week. And, if you are a frequent PC user, you should backup your data on a daily basis.

Fighting Spyware, Adware and Related Forms of Malware
In some cases, it is not that easy to realise that spyware and related forms of malware are installed on your system.

For a full explanation of spyware, adware, related forms of malware and the damage that may be done to your system read What are Spyware, Adware, Keyloggers, Diallers and Root Kits?.

In other cases, you will almost immediately notice changes to your web browser that you didn't make. These changes include toolbars that you didn't want installed, different homepage settings or changes to your security settings and favourites list.

Other signs of spyware include advert pop-ups which are not related to the website being viewed at the time. Many such adverts usually relate to pornography or emoticons or diet pills and are not displayed as they are usually shown on legitimate adverts. Adverts may also appear when you are not surfing the web. Spyware is not only annoying but it slows your system performance, causes start-up time to increase, hogs your Internet connection and on occasion will lead to system crashes.

7. Invest in Anti-Spyware Software

You should install an anti-spyware software package. There are some good ones on the market and many experts go as far as suggesting installing two or three since any single package may not be powerful enough to find all the entries and changes to your registry and other files made by spyware. Such malware is installed like any other application on your system thus leaving traces of itself on the registry files of and other places with your system. Anti-spyware works by looking for these traces and deleting them.

Also beware of what you download from the Internet. Make sure that the sources that you download stuff from are know to you - and even here you have to pay extreme attention. For example, not all companies who claim their software contains adware are really offering adware only! There's always the possibility that there is spyware disguised in the program. Make sure that you read privacy policies and licence agreements.

In summary, the seven key components of your security architecture should include:

1. An Updated Operating System
2. Anti-virus Software
3. Knowledge of all the Processes Running on Your PC
4. A Firewall
5. Registry Cleaner
6. Backup Software
7. Anti-Spyware

Only in this way can you feel safe that your valuable personal data is secure from prying eyes and malicious intent.

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