From the Kenosha News on 7-3-05

     Is your anti-virus really protecting your computer?

     The first and most important step to protect your computer from viruses is to install a reputable anti-virus program. I use a commercial one – Symantec (Norton) Anti-Virus – but if you just can't afford it or don't want to, you can get AVG free on-line at free.grisoft.com/doc/2/lng/us/tpl/v5. But even if you have anti-virus installed, you may not be as well protected as you think. Understanding and checking the following items will help you know how protected you really are.

      First, understand that the purpose of anti-virus is not to PREVENT viruses, but to detect them and maybe clean them. Viruses take advantage of vulnerabilities in your operating system, in an application, or in your computing practices. Until you eliminate those vulnerabilities, you can get a virus even if you have anti-virus software.

      Most vulnerabilities can be eliminated by applying patches (updates) to your operating system. While I was previously wary of applying the patches recommended by Windows Update, lately I've found that delaying patches is a dangerous practice since many of them plug the security holes that viruses exploit. If you have Windows XP, you should have SP2 (service pack 2.) Better yet, go into Windows Update and set it to download and apply updates each day. It might seem aggressive and risky, but viruses are introduced so quickly these days, procrastinating is riskier yet. Think of patches like a vaccine for your computer; they can actually prevent some viruses before they happen.

      The viruses that can't be prevented by patches usually require you to do something unwise to infect your computer. This includes opening e-mail attachments or downloading infected files. Educating yourself on safe practices is an important way to protect your computer.

      Second, make sure that your anti-virus definitions are up-to-date. A few years ago, I would have recommended weekly updates. Now, I recommend they be done daily. Set your computer to download new definitions automatically every day, preferably at a time that your computer will be turned on.

      Also, make sure you have Real-time Protection turned on. It may be called something else in your software, but it's the feature that looks for viruses all the time, not just when you do a scan. This is important since many worm viruses can infect your computer while you're not running anything! With real-time protection turned on, you can do a complete scan less often. When your anti-virus notifies you of a virus, STOP! Don't do anything else until you or the software has cleaned that virus. Sometimes, your anti-virus will clean, quarantine, or delete the infected files, but sometimes you'll need to clean it yourself. My previous article on cleaning tough viruses can be found on my web site at www.sabbarpublications.com. Click on the News Archive button at the left.

      Third, understand that many computer problems these days are caused by spyware rather than viruses. Your anti-virus program will not prevent or even detect spyware. Refer to the article on pop-ups on my web site for more about spyware.

      Using the tools of anti-virus, patches, updates, and anti-spyware, you'll keep your computer better protected.

By Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 7-3-05