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Computer Maintenance


Following are some tips for protecting your computer system from viruses, spyware, Trojan Horses, Malware etc.
1. Ensure your virus scanner is up to date, doing regular scans and is configured to check your emails.
2. Ensure all your Windows Critical Updates are installing / are up to date.
3. Ensure you have a Firewall enabled.
4. Check your computer regularly for spyware.
5. Ensure you do a regular Thorough scandisk (Error Checking) of your hard drive(s).
6. Do regular defragmentation of your hard drive(s).

How do I Do it?
Virus Scanners
Generally speaking, most of the virus scanners available on the market do a good job, provided they are current. Updates are generally released every week and you need to ensure that you have the latest version, otherwise your virus scanner cannot check for new viruses (Note: If you have Windows Vista or XP SP3 installed and operating correctly it will tell you if your virus protection needs updating). Virus scanners have two main functions: 1/ Download the latest virus definition file, and 2/ Scan your computer for viruses, and it is important to ensure both functions are happening. A common reason for virus scanners not getting updated is if you use a dial up connection as opposed to a broadband connection where the computer can access the net any time it is on. If you are using dial up check regularly how up to date your virus scanner’s database is. We recommend using AVG 2011 (which is also available as a free version), and can be downloaded at www.avg.com or http://free.avg.com/ or from our Downloads page. You can download the latest version and this will overwrite any old version so you don’t need to remove it unless you are having a problem with an earlier installation, in which case uninstall and restart before installing the latest version). We like it because it is robust, simple and free for personal use. So often we have seen computers where the renewal hasn’t been paid on a virus scanner, the database is not current and therefore the virus scanner is almost of no use. Following are some tips for operating AVG 2011 :

  1. Select AVG 2011 for Windows from your list of programs or from the icon on the screen or the taskbar. Ensure that all programs are Active & Functional. From here you can also check for updates and do a complete scan.
  2. From the History tab you can go to the Test Results, look at the log file and ensure the computer has been doing tests regularly. Also look for any instances of a virus being found, and check the test for the next day to ensure it is clear. This is only the logfile for the regular tests and will not show viruses that come in by email, removable media [floppy, CD etc] or via your network if you are on one, as these are dealt with immediately. The program will tell you how to handle these if they are not automatically deleted.
  3. Updates. If you are on broadband and the computer is always on, updates are automatic. If you are on dialup, or the machine is off, updates cannot be done automatically. Go to the first step above to check regularly. It cannot be emphasized enough how important it is on all Windows machines to have your virus scanner up to date.

If your virus scanner is out of date, inactive, or you suspect a virus has got in and not been detected, you can do an external check via the internet. One such site is the Trend Micro site at our Download page. If viruses have got into your computers boot sector you may need to create a DOS disk to check it, from the F-Prot link on the same page. Ensure you have the latest version before using.

Another good free antivirus is put out by Microsoft called Microsoft security Essentials. I have found this to be a very good product. You can download it here: http://www.microsoft.com/security_essentials/
But dont forget, you can only use one antivirus program.

Windows Live OneCare Safety scanner http://onecare.live.com/site/en-US/default.htm An excellent online scanner from Microsoft. (this is not an antivirus program and can be used no matter what antivirus you have). You need to select the Full Service Scan. It will download some software to your computer that you need to allow to run and install, then allow the full scan, which will take some time to complete. I recommend using this on a regular basis and if you are using file sharing programs such as Limewire or uTorrent etc use it after a file sharing program.

File Sharing Programs. Problems will always occur with Windows computers when running file sharing programs such as Limewire and uTorrent etc and that is why I strongly recommend having an old Linux computer to run these programs, or use an Apple computer. However if you do want to run these programs (and most kids do) there are a few precautions that, if followed, will ensure some level of safety. These are as follows: When installing Limewire etc make sure that the programs do not run at Windows startup (in Limewire you will find this in the Advanced Options). And then, after running a file sharing session, use Spybot and/or Spyware Doctor to scan the computer. Then run the Windows Live OneCare Safety online scanner and run a Full Safety Scan (this may take some hours, so run overnight). It is also a good idea to do a check with your normal antivirus (this should run all the time but a manual update then a scan is a good idea as some malware that can come in via file sharing can disable it). You can see what programs are running at startup by using the advanced mode in Spybot and looking at System Startup (but be very careful about what programs you delete here). With Spybot it is preferable to do the updates manually before using.

Remember that it is very important to have only one antispyware program installed on your computer (you can run an online one though), but you can install more than one antispyware program such as Spybot, Spyware Doctor (without the antivirus component), Lavasoft AdAware, and some others.

Windows Updates
Your computer should have a link to the Windows Updates site, either at the top part of your list that comes up when you click on Start, or at the top of your list of programs (XP, Vista), or by selecting Windows Updates in your IE browser. If not, follow this link: http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/ This is the Microsoft site and it will check your computer to see what updates are installed. Ensure all critical updates are done.
If your computer is not doing updates or has updates that have failed GET IT CHECKED immediately, as this is not an uncommon problem both with XP and Vista. XP users must have SP3 installed and Vista users SP1 installed, but there have been many updates since these service packs. Check your service pack status by right clicking on My Computer (XP) or Computer (Vista, Windows 7) and going to Properties.
Remember – If your computer is telling you that there are Updates for your system – DO IT NOW

Firewalls
Firewalls are designed to prevent hackers getting into your computer. This is especially important if you are using an internet connection that is always on. If you are running Windows XP or Vista there is a firewall in the system which should be enabled. Some third party programs such as Trend Micro, McAfee, AVG non free etc may run their own firewall and will turn the Windows firewall off. If you are worried about the security of the Windows firewall a good free firewall is available by going to our Downloads page. Next, go to the Zone Alarm link. However when you are behind a device like a good quality ADSL modem you have reasonable protection from external attacks from that device for the average home user. A far bigger risk is what comes into your email inbox or file sharing programs or unsafe websites.

Spyware
Spyware is a program that gets into your computer and tracks your movements on the Internet and reports it back to a tracking company. Some spyware is harmless, but some is not and it is best to run a spyware checking program regularly (min every two weeks). Unlike a virus scanner it is a good idea to run two of these. Windows Vista comes with Windows Defender built in, but I have not found it to be the most effective one available.
Two I recommend are Spybot and Lavasoft AdAware. You will find links to both programs on our webpage http://www.plugit.com.au/ and go to Downloads page. Both of these offer free programs for personal use. The only disadvantage with this is that because they are free, you do not get told when they update to a new version. It may appear that an older version is updating but in actual fact it is not. Therefore you have to go back to the vendor’s website to check what is the latest version. With Spybot you can immunise your computer against a lot of pop up ads by selecting the Immunise option (see Tea Timer notes below). You can also lock your browser against hijacking by ticking the boxes at the bottom of the Immunise page, but if you want to make changes to your browser options later you have to go in and unlock it first. When installing Spybot, a screen will come up asking you to Select Components. Deselect Additional Languages and Skins to change appearance. When you get to the screen saying Select Additional Components tick the last box (use system settings protection [Tea Timer]). When Tea Timer is installed a warning box will come up and warn you if any program is attempting to change your computer’s settings. If you are installing new software this is fine, but if you are just browsing a website and not installing something and the box comes up, be very suspicious. With both of these programs you should check you have the latest updates before using. Both these programs are free for personal use.
Another excellent one is Spyware Doctor. A free version of this can be downloaded using the Google Pack (see below).

Disk Cleanup, ScanDisk [Error Checking] and Defragmentation
These should be run fortnightly. You can leave ScanDisk or Defrag running overnight, but pick a night without thunderstorms.
1. Go to My Computer and Right Click on C Drive (or whatever drive you want to check). Go to Properties, and under General tab select Disk Cleanup. Follow the prompts. Normally you can tick all boxes with data.
2. To run ScanDisk / Error Checking. Select the Tools tab and select the Error Checking function. Tick for Thorough and Fix Errors. The scan will not run on your C drive however until you restart and Windows will give you this message. Just OK it to scan then reboot.
3. To run Defrag. From the Tools option again, select Defragment Drive and allow to run.
These last two functions will take some time and the computer should not be used while running Error Checking. If Error Checking comes up with the message that it has restarted 10 times either use Ctrl+Alt+Del to close programs (not Explorer or Systray), or start your computer in Safe mode [reboot and hold down CTRL key OR tap F8 key while restarting and the option will come up.

Google Chrome browser and Gmail. A much more secure browser than IE. However you will still be using the IE8 browser for Windows Updates and to run the Windows Live Safety scan. You can use the address bar as the search function in Google Chrome, you don’t even have to type in www – just a part of a web address will find a website or else take you to a Google search.
I recommend using Gmail for all email as your emails are then backed up by Google (other email suppliers such as Bigpond, Optus etc can be imported into Gmail and are then backed up). You first need to set up a Gmail account which then is similar to Microsoft’s Passport for all Google services. To use Gmail for all your email accounts go to Settings (in Gmail) then Accounts then Get mail from other accounts option. Gmail is available from any computer that you log yourself on to with your Gmail account (just remember DON’T save the password on a public computer.

Mozilla Firefox Browser. This is a browser with many excellent features that does not have many of the vulnerabilities that Internet Explorer has. You can run this with IE and Google Chrome, just select one of them as the default browser . Once Firefox is installed, you can then browse the great list of extensions available for it. Highly recommended.

Google Pack http://pack.google.com is a great site for downloading programs such as Google Chrome, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Earth, Adobe Reader, Spyware Doctor, Firefox and many more. Not only are downloads from this site free but the Google Updater will keep your versions up to date.

If you have any queries re any of the above, call me on 0412-444100.


Peter Buckland, Principal, PlugIT.

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