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Computer virus are becoming a common household subject in today's modern world. With the widespread use of PCs and laptops powered by fast Internet connections, the concern about computer security and infections has grown yearly. How much does all this concern the average user? Well that depends on who you ask. Of course, the anti-virus companies want you scared. More fear equals more profits for them, but how worried should you be?

So what is a virus? In the technical sense it is any self replicating program that installs itself on your computer without your knowledge or consent. This leaves out many other forms of spyware, and adware, because they do not replicate themselves. However, they can still be very harmful to your PC. For the majority of this article I will lump them together into the category of malware (anything bad for your computer that you may or may not even know is there).

The majority of the more dangerous malware is spread with .exe files or packaged in with compressed files and shared over the Internet. Chances are, unless you are pirating software, or downloading “adult” applications from unknown sites you will not infect yourself directly. The real danger, for the average computer user, comes from your friends.

Many modern virus are programmed with code that searches the host computer for IM (instant messaging) software. When found it then generates a generic message to the people on your contact list asking them to view your new photos, video files, etc. If they click yes, and most do, accepting the download from what they think is their friend, it sends them a replicated copy of itself, infecting their machine. This process is repeated effectively reproducing itself across the Internet. The aim of these types of virus is destruction. They will rapidly infect other exe files on your computer, often downloading other virus and turning your beloved machine into its personal breeding ground.

Key loggers, Data miners, and other monitoring software on your PC also mostly show up here. These will take data from your computer; including financial records and what you type, and send it to someone you probably do not want to have that information. This is where a large amount of Internet identity theft occurs.

The simplest way to not be fooled and infected by this type of trickery is to think before you click. If you get a request to download anything, from even the closest of friends, simply talk to the person sending you the request. If they do not respond, its probably a virus. If its a real person trying to send you something you actually want to see, they should just attempt to send it to you again, after they have chatted with you to verify its actually a person sending the request, of course.

The more common type of malware that you may come in contact with is spyware/adware based issues. These can also come from any exe file you download, but more frequently you will get these from browsing the web. There are security holes in any web browser. Spyware writers find these holes, and trick your Internet browser into executing commands that you are unaware of. Typical symptoms of spyware/adware infections are: excessive pop up windows, random links appearing on your desktop, or your homepage being changed. These will also often attempt to direct you to other pages that contain more nasties, so its a snowball effect. You get one bad program on your PC and it quickly becomes ten.

One variety of this is often called adware. It collects data on what web pages you do visit and then pops up advertisements based on what it thinks you are likely to click. These programs are typically designed to either generate hits on a ring of websites, to gather data for advertising purposes, or both at the same time.

The difficulty in removing malware can range from the simplest of tasks, to not a chance in hell depending on what exactly you end up getting. Typically, the quicker you catch it the easier it will be. Clearing your temporary Internet files from your computer can clear up most of the browser exploit type of spyware. There are also plug-ins and settings changes you can set up in your browser to not allow your homepage to be changed and to block harmful scripts. Sometimes all you have to do is locate the file itself and just press the delete button.

Notice I haven't really mentioned much about anti-virus software? There is a reason for this that I will explain now. Be it a freeware, or a paid subscription anti virus program, most true virus that are less than 3 months old will be slowed down, at best, by these programs. Let me explain. Most virus, once installed, will quickly copy themselves and attach to other executable files on your hard drive. Once this starts happening it will usually find its way to your system files. These files are the ones you need to have to actually start up your machine. Anti virus software can not change these files, but virus themselves have no problem going there. Once they have infected that section of your machine, unless you have a computer programming background, its pretty much game over.

Anti virus software is really only good for two things, the first being detection. Without anti virus software of some kind you would not know you had a virus until it was much too late to do something about it. Some virus outbreaks can be avoided all together by simply scanning any file you download prior to running it. Don't rely on this though, a lot of the more clever virus programs hide themselves well. They will not always trigger a warning from anti virus programs until after they become active.

The second thing they can usually do well is deal with the simpler and outdated infections. If a virus isn't that aggressive or is a Trojan, (a virus that doesn't do anything until it is activated either by an Internet command or at a certain time and date) it can often be found and deleted before actually causing any harm. Simple spyware programs are also often weeded out by an anti virus scan.

So, with the myriad of programs out there designed to deal with these threats what should you do? There are four things I would wholeheartedly recommend to the common PC user.

First, turn on Windows firewall. A firewall doesn't stop a virus from running, but it can prevent it from connecting to the Internet to download more awful stuff to your computer. Hate Microsoft? Hey no problem, there are several other free firewalls you can download. Zone alarm is one that comes highly recommended, but feel free to read the reviews and find one that fits your tastes.

Second, download a spyware removal tool. Spyware and adware, although a lot less dangerous than true virus, are still enough to bring your system to a crawl if you let them go. Most anti virus software will find some of these children of the virus, but not even close to all of them. I personally use Spybot Search and Destroy along with Crap Cleaner. Both of these programs have free versions and work very well to keep these nuisances at bay. Again, there are hundreds of choices, so read the review sites and choose one that meets your needs.

Third, is Anti virus software. I have used dozens of different programs over the years and have yet to find a commercial product that works any better than the good free offerings. Currently Avira, AVG, and Avast are the most used of the free stuff out there but feel free to explore. Again review sites are your friend, you can find out a lot of info on these programs and their features by doing a bit of research.

Fourth, and often the most neglected chore, is backing up your data. I don't care how you do it. A second hard drive, a DVD, thumb drives, however you do it this will save you much heartache if you do get infected. Everyone makes mistakes, and in the world of computers that can result in a nasty virus. Make sure you have a reinstall disk of your operating system as well. This is usually either a disk given to you with your computer, or the actual disk you bought to install the OS to begin with. Beware some computer manufacturers tend to just put a recovery partition on your hard drive and expect you to burn the disk yourself if you want one. Taking the time to back up anything you care about losing, and your OS, will make it that much easier to deal with if the worst happens.

Periodically run the scans, usually once a week is enough, to ensure you didn't pick something up over time. If you do get infected, or even think you may have, reboot into “safe mode”. How to do this varies on the different operating systems, but usually you can do it with the run command. Just open your start menu and click “Run” then type “msconfig” into the box that pops up (minus the quotes). Click the “boot.INI” tab and choose “Safe Boot”. Click “Apply” and you're set. This will restart your system in a minimalistic state. It will prevent the malware from loading up and stop it from having Internet access. This makes it much easier to remove the infections, because they are not repopulating themselves as your trying to get rid of them.

Run your Anti virus scan until it comes up clean, removing anything found as you go. Then do the same thing with whatever spyware remover you went with. Do not forget to clear your system restore data, as a large majority of virus will write themselves into there. If the infection manages to get into the boot sectors of your hard drive, its time to either call in a pro and pay to get your system cleaned, or as a last resort, reformat and reinstall your OS.

Avoiding infections is always the best route to go. Despite what the sellers of Anti virus software want you to believe, if you use common sense you can go an infinite amount of time without ever running into anything truly malicious. If a site is suspicious, or using excessive pop ups and adware, then just close the browser and don't ever download anything from them. If they are advertising free copies of stuff you're supposed to pay for, chances are if you download it, you're going to regret it. I'm not coming down on the software pirate here, I am just saying that if you do that kind of thing, you're doing it at the risk of virus.

Simply be aware and cautious while you're clicking your way around the net. That in itself is the most effective way of keeping your system the way you want it, fast and free of malware.

Home safety is an frequently discussed topic, and the benefits of alarm systems, motion sensors and surveillance cameras in and around our homes or businesses are well known. If you would similar additional information on any aspects of household security then pay a visit Home Security Action which provides a quantity of important help and assitance.

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