Let’s face it, even the average computer user is susceptible to a whole range of viruses, spyware and other junk that can retard your computer’s operation or even cause serious damage.  Most computers do come with anti-virus programs, but the downside of these programs is their yearly cost and the large footprint they can leave on your computer’s registry and resources.  Some experts even wonder if they’re as efficient as they claim to be.  So, how do you protect your computer without spending a bunch of money or taking up too much space?

    First you need an anti-virus program.  Just one though.  You cannot have more than one anti-virus program on your computer, as they will conflict and neither one will work properly.  The first step is to uninstall Norton or McAfee.  This can be done through the programs’ uninstall function.  In most cases, this takes care of it, though you may have to reboot several times to get rid of everything.  Next, download the most current FREE version of PCTools Anti-Virus.  In my experience, this is the most user-friendly program; it scans relatively quickly and doesn’t hog a lot of resources.  The newest version updates automatically as well.

    The second thing you should get is a firewall.  The free one from ZoneAlarm is pretty unbeatable.  I have used it for years, and it’s only gotten better and less intrusive.  It will generally find everything on your computer that is safe to allow on the internet, which leaves you with very little setup.  Just use your judgment when telling it to allow certain programs.  If you do not recognize a program asking for permission, a good idea is to search for it via Google or another search engine and find out exactly what it is.  It is a good idea to use the quick scan function every week and the full scan perhaps every other week.

However, besides firewalls and anti-virus programs, these days it is also wise to have a specifically anti-spyware and anti-malware program.  Most comprehensive is probably Super Anti-Spyware, and its quick scan function typically catches everything you need to catch.  If you’re feeling extra paranoid, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (MBAM) is another good program that will sometimes catch things Super Anti-Spyware does not.  Both of these should be kept updated and the quick scan function used once a week.  You are almost guaranteed to catch a lot of tracking and adware in every scan.

    Other useful applications for keeping your computer clean and running good is the TFC (temporary file cleaner) by Oldtimer and Auslogics Defragger.  The former is a thorough temporary file cleaner, which is where a lot of the nasties on your computer hide.  You simply give it permission to run, then leave it alone until it instructs you to reboot or finish.  The latter is a better defragger than what is in your system tools folder.  It also gives you the option to optimize your disc(s).

    Finally, it is recommended that you use a browser other than Internet Explorer.  Popular alternatives are Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome.  If you use the former, an add-on called Ad-Block Plus is extremely useful and will not only keep instances of adware down, but it will also likely speed up your internet browsing experience by blocking pop-ups before they can interfere.  You also have the option to block individual items on a page, such as flash that may be slowing down your browsing.

    The very last thing to remember is to always keep things updated.  Always download your java updates, Adobe and flash, as well as Windows.  While PCTools and ZoneAlarm either update automatically or alert you, the other programs mentioned do not, you will have to periodically check for new updates.

    Nothing is 100% reliable, but with these tools at your disposal, it should be easier to keep your computer safe and your frustrations down. 

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