In this day and age it seems most of us spend more time cleaning the little spies and pests off our computers than truly using them for productive work or play. One thing you can count on in technology is that you won’t really miss it until it’s gone, and if you’re not careful your data could be gone…forever. Imagine losing all your hard work or your digital family pictures because you forgot to, or didn’t know how to, backup and protect your data. There are many contributing factors to how or why we lose data and there are many ways to safeguard your computer and gain some sanity in our often too crazy

Virus Protection Program

First things first; every computer should have a good virus protection program. There are many to choose from, but the most well-known are MacAfee® and Norton AntiVirus™. The best part about choosing well-known or reputable software vendors is that they are dedicated to keeping up with all the new viruses that continually appear. Once you install the virus protection program, make sure to keep your virus definition files up-to-date. This is done by going into the virus program and scheduling the program to download updates automatically. These updated files will keep your computer informed about new viruses. This is very effective, but make sure you schedule the updates for a time you usually have the computer up and running. You could also choose to update manually.

Scan Your Computer

Next, make sure you scan your computer. This is usually done in the virus scanner program under the virus scan console. The virus program can actively protect you against known viruses, but what about the ones that might already be on your machine? I try to scan my computer once a month. And while we are talking about viruses, always be sure you know the person from whom you are opening email attachments; too many viruses are propagated via email by unsuspecting individuals. One astounding virus fact: at its peak infection rate, 1 in 12 emails on the internet were infected with the MyDoom virus. So a good virus protection program is a wise investment.

Adware and Spyware

Now let’s talk about Adware and Spyware. Adware usually results from downloading shareware or freeware programs or by clicking that common popup box that says “your computer may be too slow, click here to speed it up,” or something to that effect. Adware is pretty harmless but excessively annoying, and it has been known to slow computer speed to a crawl. If you actually read the EULA (end user license agreement) the next time you load a free program instead of just clicking “next,” you will be amazed at what it tells you. It basically says you are giving the licenser the right to load anything on your computer. So you load a really cool program, and then switch to Google to search for something, and 20 popup boxes begin streaming on your screen. Spyware is installed similarly to Adware, but is more malicious in its nature. Spyware can be used to log keystrokes, remotely access your computer, or just cause grief and headaches. Much like virus programs, there are several Spyware/Adware programs; some are free and others are at a cost. Spybot Search and Destroy 1.3 ( is a good free program for combating Spyware and Freeware. Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware is also a good free program to use.
One observation about free programs is that while one may find pests and remove them, you can install another free program and it will find pests the previous program couldn’t. The key to addressing that problem is to
use a purchased program. Purchased programs seem to find more problems and clean more effectively. A program called PestPatrol® is a very good program that costs around $39.95 for the home user. The key to remember with any program is to make sure you keep all the programs up-to-date. All these programs will connect to the Internet and download their latest updates; it’s up to you to make sure that happens.

Viruses and pests will prey on computers that don’t keep security holes in the operating system updated. Windows® XP machines can benefit from the new Service Pack 2 Update, and it’s free. Service Pack 2 will give you an enhanced Internet Explorer with a popup blocker built in, and it also has more personal firewall features. Simply run Windows® Update on your computer and find out what you are missing.

Another important defense tool is backing up your data. I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep your data in an easy-to-access area of memory. My favorite place is in the My Documents folder. I put all of my important documents, pictures, files, etc. in “My Documents”. This way I have one central easy backup area for my data. I back my data up once a month—just in case my computer crashes, and chances are it will crash one day. We live in a digital age where most saved data is digital; however, if my computer crashed and all saved files were lost I would lose personal photos equivalent to losing all my pictures in a fire or flood. We have the advantage of being able to avoid loss by backing up our data to CDs or DVDs. Storage of these backup files, which takes hardly any space at all, should be in a fire-safe or a safety deposit box. So, use the backup utility that comes with Windows®; it’s fairly intuitive and it will save you lots of pain in the future.

System Restore

Lastly, one very nice feature of Windows® XP and Windows® Me is the System Restore feature. This feature will write a restore point when new software or changes to your system occur. This gives you the ability to roll back to a previous point when your computer was working.

I hope this information assists you in taking control of your computer. Nothing is more annoying and stressful than a zombie computer that doesn’t want to execute when you want and need it to perform. So, go forth and take control of your computer, and happy computing.

Tim Lawrence
the IT Guy, AutomationDirect

Originally Published: Dec. 1, 2005