Defending Your Computer the Right Way with Antivirus

A few weeks ago I posted an article on the Top 10 “To-Dos” After Building a Computer which focused on specific tasks that are a must for new PC users.

I followed up that article with a detailed look at How to Create a Backup Image in Windows Vista and Windows XP since a good backup strategy is a necessity for any new PC users.

Today’s article focuses on another important aspect of owning a computer … one that no one can afford to miss!

If you’re thinking about connecting your new computer to the Internet, you must first have your primary line of defense in place … an effective antivirus application! Antivirus is an essential component for your computer’s health and security. As a computer owner, you’re responsible for understanding the process of selecting, installing and configuring an antivirus application.

Warning! Not All Antivirus Software is Trustworthy

There are dozens of antivirus applications available, but not all of them offer a satisfactory amount of reliability for detecting all viral threats. In fact, for a period of time, there were a number of vendors that claimed to offer virus protection, but really offered little or no protection at all. Some of them were designed just so the malicious software installed with the “antivirus” application would slip by.

With that in mind, it’s obviously not a good idea to connect to the Internet unprotected and install from the first “antivirus” advertisements that pops up. If possible, you really should never connect to the Internet without any antivirus protection running. It’s not safe and will often get you in trouble before you know it.

To find a trustworthy antivirus application, go to SpyWare BeWare! This non-profit computer security forum will provide you with links to reliable antivirus applications as well as many other security related applications, such as spyware protection and firewalls. This forum is also a great place to get computer and network security help. Some of the links for antivirus applications listed on SpyWare BeWare include:

To Pay or Not to Pay?

That is THE question … A few of the vendors listed above offer free editions of their antivirus applications for home users; this initiative is funded by editions for business users. The free versions available from the list still offer the core functionality and protection required from an antivirus application, but tend to be less feature-rich than the versions you pay for. Usually less features means less of a performance footprint, which is one reason why I would recommend going with a free version.

My favorite free antivirus applications are Anti-Vir and AVG; AVG being what I currently run on my computer. The protection offered by these versions match that of anything you pay for and arguably exceed them. Another reason I recommend a free antivirus application is no subscription expiration. Unfortunately, not all users read the warnings when their antivirus subscription expires and can go months without realizing they are no longer getting updated virus definitions, leaving them vulnerable.

Performing the Installation is Easy …

The installation procedure for each antivirus application obviously varies. Generally the installation wizards are self-explanatory and require little input from the user. Running the installation wizard itself is the least complicated part of the antivirus installation process. Some applications download the latest virus definitions during the installation wizard. Any good antivirus application will at least prompt you to update when the virus definitions are out of date when it is first launched. Perform the update! Using outdated virus definitions is nearly as bad as running no antivirus application at all.

Scheduling Updates and Scans

After the installation and the initial update of your antivirus application, you should schedule regular updates and scans. Many antivirus applications have a default schedule to stick by for these tasks; however, it is a good idea to go over this schedule to make sure it fits with your schedule.

Scheduling updates is important for protecting your computer from the latest threats. Updating is usually a very quick process that requires little or no interaction from the user during the update process. In fact, most antivirus applications update daily by default at a certain time or update when the computer is started, if it is not on during the scheduled time. If that is the case, then you can leave the update schedule unaltered. If that’s not the case, then you can easily change it!

There are a few things to consider when setting up the schedule for scanning your computer. One of these is the frequency of scheduled scans, since a virus scan can take a lot of time and resources. Digging through every file on a computer’s hard drive can take hours. Putting the hard drive to work that long is bound to introduce some wear and tear. Performing a full system scan on a daily basis can significantly reduce the life of the hard drive.

Still, the price of scanning everyday can be worth it in many situations. This mostly depends on your surfing habits and knowledge of the computer’s user or users. Family or shared computers where users might download or view questionable content from the Internet, should probably scan every day. Whereas users with safe surfing habits can usually get away with scanning once a week.

When picking a time to scan, keep in mind that it takes resources to scan. Scanning can cause a dramatic slow-down during multitasking or when performing operations that require heavy disk usage. It’s best to schedule a time when the computer is likely to be on, but not heavily used, otherwise scans could get cancelled frequently.

Once an antivirus application has been installed, updated, and scheduled, chances are you won’t have to deal with it much more. A properly protected computer should rarely get infected. If for some reason your scans are frequently finding viruses, it’s a good idea to investigate the source of these viruses and restrict the user exposing the computer to danger. The risk of infection while surfing the Internet is directly related to the morality and legality of the content viewed or downloaded.

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