The first essential step is to install effective anti-virus software. The easiest way is to buy one of the two major anti-virus programs - either Norton Anti-Virus or McAfee Anti-Virus. There are several other commercial packages that are also respectable, but you'll get the best support from the user community with one of the major brands. Many computers, like Dell and Hewlett-Packard, come with Norton Internet Security installed, which includes their anti-virus package. These programs automatically check for new updates, so you're always protected against the latest threats. They work seamlessly with all of the popular EMail programs, including Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird.

The benefits of the commercial packages are the frequency with which these programs automatically update the virus definition files that they use to detect viruses, the large staffs they have employed to find and detect new threats, their superior compatibility with different operating system updates, and the additional functions they build in like SPAM blockers, identity protection, and disk back-ups. With new viruses popping up all the time, unless your protection software is kept updated, you start to become ever more vulnerable to infection. So the commercial packages have benefits that you need to keep in mind before trying a cheap fix or simply using the ostrich approach and hope the problem will just go away. And these programs have to behave well in a wide variety of environments without crashing or impairing performance. They also offer technical support that you can contact for immediate help where the free packages often rely on online communities where there may be no help for your problem.

If you decide to go with one of the commercial anti-virus packages, be a smart Internet shopper and don't pay more than you have to for them. For example, Comcast™ offers their Internet Service subscribers a free version of McAfee. And if you search Google for "Norton coupons", you'll find some excellent discount offers for both new purchases and renewals. My Norton subscription was up for renewal recently and by searching for a coupon, I was able to upgrade from Norton Internet Security to Norton 360 for about $30.00, which was roughly half of the regular cost of renewing my original subscription.

That's not to say there aren't other reasonable solutions. For the budget-minded, there are dozens of freeware programs available from the various download websites. There's a respected freeware package called "Avast 4 Home Edition that has a very good reputation, and anti-virus newcomer Microsoft Security Essentials is a great no-cost choice for PC users - esepcially for those who have recently upgraded to Windows 7 or Windows 8. Microsoft Security Essentials has gotten high marks in all of the reviews I've seen. I also hear good things about a free anti-virus program offered by http://www.free-av.com. There are other popular low-cost programs like AVG from Grisoft that are easy on the budget. Many of them have trial versions available at CNET's Download.com. There's an excellent article on free security software for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux users on Ars Technica. Be sure to check if the anti-virus program you choose updates itself automatically, or if you have to do manual updates. If your software requires manual updates, you'll want to make a habit of doing so at least once a week.


How to Remove Viruses Adware, Spyware, and Malware

Download AdAware

Download Spybot - Search & Destroy

Download Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware

You can also download a free copy of Microsoft's new anti-spyware software at Microsoft Security Essentials. It works with XP, Vista, and Windows 7 and Windows 8.

Anti-virus programs check for a great many problems, and generally protect you very well. Most will remove any infections they find. But when you believe your computer is infected, it's a good idea to use a different program to get a "second opinion" to make sure your system is free of malware that your regular anti-virus program may not be able to detect. There's another class of security software that will do just that.

For Windows users, a good place to start is Microsoft's Security Scanner, which will scan your system for problems. As always, it's impossible for any software to know about every possible infection, but Microsoft has been putting a lot of effort into providing security for their users in the last few years. Microsoft also offers their free Malicious Software Removal Tool which they update monthly.

There is a Macintosh version of Avast that's free, and there are others as well. Mac users should consult Apple's document What is Malware? for help in finding malware removal solutions for iOS and their other platforms beyond anti-virus software.

Advertisers are putting their own spin on this game of serupticiously spreading programs with a class of software called "adware" or "spyware". Spyware watches which websites you visit and if, for example, you visit a website that sells Nike shoes, you'll get a pop-up ad for Addidas. That's just one of the least intrusive things these little demons can do to you. Or if you try to use Google, some of these programs will redirect you to a different search engine where the only results you'll see are from sites that have paid for it. Adware/Spyware is also quite capable of tracking every website you visit and reporting that information back to advertisers. Worse, the accumulated effects of these pathogens is to slow down your computer or cause it to crash.

In my mind, there's no difference between viruses, adware, malware, and spyware. All of them invade your computer and intefere with its normal operation in one way or another. Just truly reprehensible stuff, all in all. Fortunately, there are two popular programs for Windows users that will remove adware. One is called "AdAware" and the other is called "Spybot - Search & Destroy." They're all free programs.

Computer Internet Security Checklist

  1. Install and use a high-quality anti-virus program. This is the key to protecting your computer. Modern anti-virus programs are better than ever. The most popular are Norton Anti-Virus from Symantec and McAfee VirusScan. I originally preferred McAfee because it was less intrusive than Norton when I tried it many years ago, but they're both excellent now and are backed by great companies.
  2. Keep your anti-virus software updated. You need to check the website of the manufacturer of your anti-virus software on a regular basis to make sure that you're protected against the latest viruses. Most programs update themselves automatically, but they all include a way for you to do a manual update. So check for updates at least once every 3 months. If the program you use has an annual fee, make sure it's always paid when you check for updates.
  3. Use a different browser and EMail program Microsoft Internet Explorer, Outlook and Outlook Express are the hacker's most common gateway to your computer because they're the most widely-used browser and Email programs. By using a different program, you're no longer the target of every teenage hacker with a grudge against the world. I strongly recommend Firefox, and its sibling EMail client Thunderbird. Other good browser choices include Google's Chrome, Opera, and Apple's Safari. These are all available at no charge over the Internet. As with your anti-virus software, you should always use the latest version of your browser and Email program, too! These programs are always improving their internal security, so it just makes sense to take advantage of the extra protection you gain by simply keeping your software updated.
  4. Never open an EMail with an attachment that you were not expecting. The latest batch of virus programs are often spread by EMail. Even if your anti-virus program does not warn you about the attached file, and even if the EMail appears to come from someone you know, do not open it. Send a message to your friend asking them to confirm that they sent the file to you before you open it. The most common method currently is to attach .zip files to messages. Never decompress a .zip archive file that comes to you unannounced.
  5. Download and use a high-quality anti-spyware program. I prefer Spybot - Search and Destroy because it runs very fast, but I also use AdAware just to do what I can to eradicate everything that might be dangerous.
  6. Keep your web browser set to its highest security level. I know, it's annoying to get the warning messages on every other webpage you visit, but it's the best way to protect yourself - especially if you use Microsoft Internet Explorer and Outlook or Outlook Express. I'm not picking on Microsoft. The simple fact is that these programs are the main targets of hackers and SPAMmers. Understanding that these programs carry certain risks is the first step to protecting yourself.
  7. Pay Attention To Malware Warnings From Google. Google has teamed with an Internet Security organization to warn users when they are about to visit a site that has been found to contain malware. When you see this warning, STOP! Go back to Google and try a different website. Don't risk infection just because the website is well-known or you've visited it frequently in the past. Any site can be hacked, and these warnings mean that there has been suspicious activity detected recently. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. Responsible websites will clean up the situation promptly and you can always try again later.
  8. If you use a broadband/high-speed method to access the Internet, you need to get a firewall. A firewall is a program that defends your computer from hackers who attempt to gain direct access to your computer over the Internet. There is a good freeware program called ZoneAlarm that will do the trick if you use Windows. Other programs are available, too. If you have a router installed to connect the computers and other devices in your house over a network, it will often have built-in protections against this kind of attack. I know the routers from Linksys do, but you should check the manufacturer's website for the router you use.
  9. Keep original copies of all of the programs you use. That means being dilligent about keeping track of any installation discs and your licensing information (user name, password, license #, etc.) so that if you get hit by a virus that can only be removed by erasing the infected files, you can re-install all of your vital programs. Naturally, this means you'll also have to keep good records of installation keys, licenses, user names, upgrade disks, and all of such information that programs require when you install them.
  10. Back it up! Make it a habit to back up all of your most important files at least once a month. Once a week is better if you can manage it, but once a month is the minimum. As usual, its a trade-off between time and risk. Consider how much you would lose if a computer virus wiped out all of your files and your most recent back-ups were a month old. If its not that bad, then you're OK. But if you raised your eyebrow when you read that sentence, you might want to think about once every two weeks. There are several ways to back up your files. These days, most people use an external hard drive because it's so inexpensive and convenient. Both Windows and MacOS include automatic back-up capabilities that will back up your computer on a selected schedule. You can also make back-ups of important data files on DVD discs.
  11. Store the back-up discs in a safe place. If you run a business from your computer, you'll want to keep the back-up discs in a separate building to eliminate the threat of fire destroying your computer and the back-ups at the same time. Do not rely on a home safe to protect discs from fire. They are designed to protect paper documents, and not computer media. Floppy discs, CDs, DVDs, and all magnetic media kept in a home safe will be useless after a fire because plastic melts at a far lower temperature than is required to burn paper. After a fire, any recording media stored in a common home safe will likely come out as a pile of useless glop. With cloud storage becoming ever-more popular, online storage of your backups is a good choice since you don't have to worry about the physical security of the media.
  12. Change your passwords frequently and don't use the same password for everything. Don't make it easy for a hacker. Some programs have password protection that I call the technological equivalent of secret writing with lemon juice. So if you use the same password everywhere, a hacker need only to find one vulnerable program on your computer (or that one file where you keep a record of all of your account numbers and passwords) in order to break into all of them. And the same goes for your online banking accounts, your eBay® account, etc. Mix it up and change it up. Don't just combine your child's first name and your home address. Think sneakier. Use your childhood best friend's amusing middle name and the year you... well, it's a family site, so let's say the year you graduated from high school, but you get the idea. Just concentrate on private information that nobody else could easily guess. As long as it's significant to you, you'll remember it and once you've associated the memory with its use as a password it will come to mind quickly.