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What are the ways to protect my computer from viruses?

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How safe is your computer? Could you be in danger of getting a virus on your system? Just how real is the danger? What steps should you take if any?

While visiting with a one of my students, I became aware that her anti-virus software was over seventeen months old and had never been updated. Upon informing her that she should update her anti-virus software regularly, she was totally surprised. Furthermore she had no concept how essential this was to ensure her system's safety. Therefore I thought it wise to write about some of the precautions you should take to avoid becoming infected with a computer virus.

While there are many 'virus' hoaxes, and please do not pass any of these hoaxes on as these may actually contain viruses, computer viruses do pose a very real danger. Therefore I've listed a few preventative measures that you should take to ensure computer safety.

1. Do install an anti-virus software program and update it often as there are new viruses discovered everyday. I update my anti-virus database daily. At least weekly should be a goal. If you are not updating perpetually, it is like having an insurance policy and never paying the premiums. In no time at all it would be worthless.

2. Be wary of email from strangers. Never open an email with an attachment from a source that is unknown or suspicious. Virus containing emails can be very persuasive in the subject line. Do not let your curiosity be aroused.

I prefer an anti-virus program that has the ability to  check all email sent and received. If you update it often, this should keep you safe, although  nothing is 100% secure. There are good programs that offer a free version for personal use. These programs generally allow continual updates. Some may require that you register again at the end of year, but the software and updates will still be free.

Two such programs are:

AVG anti-virus, Free edition

Free avast! 4 Home Edition

For more options and reviews on programs you can do a search on google for free anti-virus.

3. Do exercise caution when downloading files from the Internet. Be sure to download from well known and reputable sources. Ascertain that your anti-virus software is set to scan files while you are downloading. I have that feature enabled in my anti-virus program and it scans all files when I am in the process of downloading, and it has on occasion prevented me from downloading a file that was infected or posed a potential danger. These programs work so take advantage of the security your anti-virus will provide by using all of the safety features.

4. New viruses creep upon a daily basis. It is important to back up your important files regularly. CD’s and DVD’s hold a large amount of information. Take advantage of this and store your valuable information and computer programs on these removable disks. In the event that a virus should ever invade your system and your files become corrupted you will be able to replace them with your backup copies.

5. Lastly apply the little rule, 'When in doubt do without'. If you are uncertain, whether it is with an unknown source in your email or a web site that offers a download, then best not to take a chance. No email message or free software is worth the damage to your computer files and the time and expense of repairing your PC. Do not be fooled, computer viruses do affect everyone.

The Internet offers us an array of software, services, entertainment and education that is beneficial. There is no reason to fear the web, it can be safe and secure. Yet it would be unrealistic to assume that there is no danger of computer viruses. There are unscrupulous persons who desire to do you harm. By observing these few guidelines you can minimize any threat of a virus attacking your computer.

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