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What Makes a Healthy Computer?

written by Head Health Nutter August 26, 2010

We’re always talking about healthy living for the body, mind and soul here on Live Lighter, but what about  the health of our possessions? In today’s post, we learn about what makes our computer sick and how to boost its immunity!

Just as there are dangerous viruses and bacteria floating around the world looking for a host to feed on, there are computer viruses and spyware lurking on the world wide web for a host to infect. Unfortunate but a fact of life, we must protect our computers from mischievous individuals using the web for selfish, harmful agendas.

Last week (shortly after I became ill and dreamed up the perfect healthcare system), my computer was hit with a trojan horse. This is a type of malicious software (a.k.a. malware) and as the name from Greek mythology suggests, appears to be helpful but actually allows unauthorized access to your computer.

As an analogy, this would be like you welcoming a thief disguised as a friend into your home and, on the sly, he opens a door or window to your place so his buddies can get in and rob you blind.

And the trojan horse doesn’t only allow hackers to access one’s personal computer! It also can access a website you upload content to from your computer (like a blog) and also to the server hosting it (posing a risk to other websites on the same server) where the hackers can then upload other types of malware!

As you can imagine, I was upset. But I had to remind myself things happen for a reason. Perhaps the Universe was telling me it’s time I found out for myself about maintaining a healthy computer, and share this info with other technologically-challenged people like me?

#1 Lesson for a Healthy Computer

Although my computer was secured, one little oversight allowed the trojan in: the automatic updates weren’t turned on in my security software! This trojan was new and without the updated version, my security software was unable to detect the threat. Doh!

The rest of the post explains the basic security you need to maintain the health of your computer, but please don’t forget this one lesson and turn on your automatic updates (as well as automatic scanning) on all the security software you install.

Boosting your Computer’s Immunity

Here’s an excellent article written specially for laymen by Erick Simpson (VP of MSP University), “Basic Computer Safety Tips” which covers protecting your computer as well as a few things you can do to ensure your safety when using the internet. Instead of reiterating Erick’s article, please read it before proceeding!

For everyday computer users who use the internet for communicating through email and social networks, and for information browsing, paying bills and some online shopping, this is the security software you’ll need for a healthy computer:

Firewall Software

According to some sources (my computer-savvy Honey for one), a firewall is the most important piece of security you’ll need to guard against malware.

Why? Because even if spyware and other information collecting malware find their way in to your computer, the firewall prevents the hacker from sending info out from your computer to the internet and into other computers.

A good firewall will ask your permission when sending or receiving any information to and from the internet. As with every tool, the firewall works best when the user knows how it works and uses it like it was meant to be used.

You “always allow” sites you trust, and when it pops up suddenly asking you to allow or deny an activity, really look at what you’re in the middle of and ask yourself, “Is there any reason why my computer would need to receive or send information?”

Also, before you allow or deny, look at the information your Firewall is providing you: do you recognize where the data is coming from or going out to? If you don’t know whether it’s good or bad, try Googling it and see what comes up.

Anti-Malware Software (Anti-virus & Anti-spyware)

Not only do these programs help protect your computer from infection, they also scan your system for threats, as well as disable and remove them before they cause harm.

The most popular anti-virus program out there is Norton Anti-Virus, but another good one on the market is CA Anti-Virus.

#2 Lesson for a Healthy Computer

Something else important I gleaned from my experience last week was: if your computer does become infected and you use an anti-malware program to clean it up, there are program files for your operating system (typically Microsoft Windows) that viruses and other malware like to hide in – something like a closet.

To find them, you must run your malware scan in your operating system’s “safe mode.” To do this when using Microsoft Windows XP, start up your computer and in the middle of the boot-up process, press and hold the F8 key before Windows has had a chance to load. For other Windows users, check here.

Once you’re in the safe mode, it’ll look like a rougher version of your normal screen (your fonts and wallpaper image may be whacked). From here, just open your malware program(s) and run a scan here. If it fails to find a threat, you’re in the clear!

#3 Lesson for a Healthy Computer

Always question when your computer is acting funny in any way. For instance, last week I noticed something was wrong when I posted Tuesday’s post here on Live Lighter. When I signed out, my login page had a list of warning error scripts on it.

It’s never done anything like that before and while I noticed it, I just assumed it was a minor glitch. At that very moment, I could have called my techie or my hosting provider to ask them their opinion. Either one would have told me to scan my ‘puter for malware immediately.

It wasn’t until the next day when I experienced the same thing, that I off-handedly mentioned it to my techie. By then, it was tough to find and remove from my computer, it had accessed my blog AND the server. My hosting provider had to quarantine the file and after cleaning everything up, it was password changin’ time!

Putting it together for Computer Health

Like Erick Simpson pointed out in his article, for the less computer-savvy, it’s easier to install and manage a bundled version of these software applications that include firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

HOWEVER, you should be aware that vendors tend to specialize in one type of software, leaving security gaps in the other software programs they offer in their packaged deal.

For the best overall security, you might want to complicate your life a bit by purchasing separate software from different companies. But, when you do this, you run into compatibility issues! (I’m betting hackers count on these challenges for their success.)

My computer technician, who believes a firewall is the most important aspect of security, suggested ZoneAlarm – the best company he knows for firewall protection. At one time I had Norton running with ZoneAlarm, then I tried CA with ZoneAlarm, but alas, they don’t play nice with one another.

ZoneAlarm Extreme is what I’m using now which includes the all-important firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware, browser security, email and identity protections AND parental controls!

While ZoneAlarm doesn’t have the best anti-virus and anti-spyware software out there, I’ll have the best firewall out there to prevent malware from reporting back to hackers. If it fails to wipe the offenders clean from my computer, I’ll download trial versions of either Norton or CA to finish the job.

Hopefully this post helps you keep your computer healthy, and saves you time, hassle and stress of removing malware after it’s attacked your computer.

Have you had a computer infection? How did you handle it and what malware programs are you using?

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