Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Computer viruses are a fact of modern, internet-connected life. At best, they're annoying performance sucking beasts, but at worst ... kiss all your data good bye.

We all need to take steps to make sure that our computers are safe, or we risk infection. Complacency is not an option.

And yet, even after all the news, and all the warnings, and after all this time ...

complacency remains all too common.

There are four important steps:

1. Install and Run an Anti-Virus Program

There are many out there.

Personally, I run Computer Associate's eTrust AntiVirus. It was the corporate standard solution where I used to work, and has served me exceedingly well for several years now. I have it scheduled to update signatures and scan every night.

I've also heard good things about Panda Antivirus, AVG Anti Virus, and Kaspersky Anti-Virus. Norton AntiVirus, now owned by Symantec is also very popular. In particular, Symantec maintains one of the best reference sites for virus related security issues.

Free and On-Line Virus Scanners: I've learned that not all virus scanners catch all viruses. I recommend having a selection of free virus scanners to run as a "second tier". AVG has a free product. Trend Micro's Housecall, and Panda's Active Scan are on-line scanners that download as an ActiveX control in your browser. Most downloadable virus scanning solutions often include free trial periods that can also come in handy as one-time second-level scans.

Download and install the package of your choice. Now. Before you forget.

2. Update the Anti-Virus Database

Your first step should be to update the virus signature database that came with the installation. New viruses are being created every day, and the databases that the anti-virus programs use are being updated as well. You need to get the latest database for your program right away.

Most of the programs have update functions that will locate, download and install the latest databases automatically. Make sure that this is enabled.

3. Run Regular Scans

"We all need to take steps to make sure that our computers are safe, or we risk infection. Complacency is not an option."

Most of the anti-virus programs work automatically. Once installed they are configured to scan all incoming and outgoing files, and often hook into your email in some way to double check that your received email is clean as well.

Unless you know what you're doing, make sure that this "real time" scanning is enabled.

I also recommend periodically running scans of your hard disk(s). Certainly when you first install the software you should run a full scan. Then, depending on how heavily used your machine is, you should run a scan periodically as well.

Some programs will allow you to schedule such a scan to happen automatically. In my case, for example, since my computers are on 24 hours a day, I schedule full virus scans nightly, while I'm asleep.

4. Keep Windows Up-To-Date

Visit Windows Update regularly, or simply enable the automatic update feature in Windows XP.

All software has bugs. Some of those bugs are used to create the exploits that virus writers take advantage of to create viruses that can infect your system. As these bugs are found, Microsoft fixes the affected components in the operating system, and makes those fixes available for download and install using Windows Update.

The "problem", is that even once the bugs are discovered and publicized, and even when the fix is available, virus writers get busy writing viruses that still exploit them. Why? Because they know not everyone stays up-to-date. (As an example, one of my most popular articles here on Ask Leo! is being read by thousands of people each month who are still being affected by a virus using an exploit that was patched close to two years ago.)

Keep Windows up-to-date. Let someone else have the "fun" of being infected with the latest viruses. Visit Windows Update weekly, or enable automatic update.

Additional Notes

Sadly, there is no "best" anti-virus program. Each may miss some something that the other's catch. That's one of the reasons I list several. The best advice is to use one, any one, and have the others "on call" for those cases when spyware sneaks past the one you use regularly.

If you do install more than one package, you should not enable the "real time" scanning for more than one at the same time - they will conflict with each other, and will cause unpredictable results.

Article C2415 - September 1, 2005 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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7 Comments
lochquel
September 2, 2005 2:35 PM

Some great 'trial' anti-virus software

http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/viruses/wsc/en-us/default.mspx

innothwoods
December 26, 2005 2:25 PM

We've used and been a reseller for Norman Virus Control for the past 4 years. Its been a wonderful product. One of the key features is Norman "SandBox" and its ability to detect unknown viruses using a "virtual computer" enviornment. Anyone want more info email me at jwinter1966@yahoo.com.

shreenivas
August 25, 2007 10:16 PM

This part of information is really useful to mass of people,who use their PC at home.I thank you for this.Hope i will get such good information in future from yr end.Once again thanks

Kaylynne
September 2, 2008 3:29 PM

After problems (very long story) with various makes of PCs over the past 15 years, I make it a practice to remove Symantic stuff and put McAfee products in. The McAfee Security Center is easy to use, everything from Shredder, to Defrag, to Scan to update, etc. is right there. Times when viruses made it tough to get to Symantec to update and remove have never happened with McAfee. Plus, it comes with my comcast internet.

Based on what I hear here on Ask Leo! I now avoid the all-in-one packages like Symatecs or McAfee's. People seem to have better results and more stable operation by picking the best individual solutions for spyware, viruses and the like.

-Leo

Don McDonough
September 6, 2008 12:37 PM

great review and action oriented info!
Don

mutu
December 25, 2008 4:51 AM

Norton anti-spyware vs AVG anti-sypware..
what is better?
What the different?

Wing
March 22, 2009 4:07 PM

how can I get rid of AntivirusPlus on Window 2000?

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