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Tech Tip 94 - (Free) Antivirus Software, Protection for Your PC

By Jack M. Germain

Sunday, Sept. 10, 2006

In previous Tech Tips we covered the steps for building a computer, installing peripherals, and installing the Windows XP operating system. In this Tech Tip we will discuss the need for an antivirus software program, and how to find a good one without going broke.

Installing computer security software is the most important task you can do after getting the operating system up and running. If you bought a computer rather than built it, the same urgency exists. It is absolutely critical that you protect your computer from viruses and other harmful attacks before you install any other programs or connect your computer to the Internet.

Computer VirusLet’s start with the definition of a computer virus. A computer virus is a harmful program written by malicious programmers to sneak commands into your computer. Trojan horses and worms, though technically different, are for all practical purposes the same as a virus. In other words, they install and spread without your knowledge, and do bad things to your PC without your knowledge or permission. These rogue commands perform functions that range from mildly annoying displays on your computer screen to more serious activities. A virus can interfere with how applications on your computer perform. Even worse, viruses can destroy data on your hard drive and even make it easier for hackers to steal your personal information. Some viruses can even turn your computer into a “zombie”, controlled remotely by hackers, usually for the purpose of sending spam email. Worried yet? You should be!

E-mail virusA virus can enter an unprotected computer and spread by copying its code to other files. They also can attach to executable files, e-mail, graphics and video files. Viruses can enter your computer while you are connected to websites. No computer is immune from a potential virus attack, but you can protect yourself. A good antivirus software package will not only block viruses from entering your computer, it will also find and remove viruses already present.

AntiVirus Plus Firewall Protection

If you are using a version of Windows earlier than Windows XP, you also must include a firewall program. A firewall is a program that blocks unauthorized access to your computer and prevents hackers from taking control of your computer. This is a very real risk if you use high-speed cable or DSL to connect to the Internet. Dial-up access does not keep the computer connected to the Internet all the time so chances of an unauthorized intrusion are very low. Once you are done accessing the Internet, you should always end your dial-up connection to close the gateway and prevent others from attempting to access your computer.

Microsoft Security CenterWindows XP includes a firewall program to protect your computer. You can turn it on by going to the Security Center of the Control Panel. The Microsoft built-in firewall is not as rigorous as third-party firewall products however, so you should consider one of the free or commercial firewalls for enhanced protection from intrusion.

A firewall by itself will not block or remove viruses. Likewise, antivirus programs by themselves will not prevent unauthorized access to your computer. Having a combination of firewall and antivirus protection is a necessity. Some software security products, known as an Internet security suites, contain both types of protection in a bundled package.

Getting Antivirus Protection

Anti-Virus logosOne of the easiest ways to get antivirus protection is from your Internet service provider. Dial-up provider America Online distributes an installation disk with free virus protection software provided by McAfee. Cable television and phone companies that provide Internet connection service also provide free security programs to subscribers. For instance, Comcast allows its subscribers to download free versions of McAfee antivirus programs and other security products directly from the McAfee website.

You can download free trial versions of antivirus software from vendor websites, or purchase a fully functional program online. You can also find reputable antivirus software in the electronic departments of some stores.

When you install an antivirus product, check if the software vendor provides automatic signature updates. Many antivirus programs let you set a time and frequency for automatically checking for new virus signature updates. Be sure you activate this setting. If the product you use does not automatically check for updates, be sure that you do this task yourself every few days.

Hackers create hundreds of new viruses daily and antivirus product vendors constantly research identifiable elements in newly discovered viruses so they can add this information to their detection databases. If an antivirus program does not have the latest detection database, known as a signature file, the program will not be able to protect your computer against the newest virus threats.

You can visit vendor websites to learn more about antivirus software and download their products. Here are links to leading antivirus software vendors. Most of these vendors offer both stand-alone virus protection and security suites.

Symantec’s Norton Antivirus


Panda Software

Sophos Software



EZ AntiVirus by CA Software

Free Antivirus Software

Why pay for antivirus protection when it is available for free? Free virus protection software did not used to measure up to its commercial counterparts. This is no longer true. Many very reputable software manufacturers use free trials or free products as marketing strategies to attract new customers to other security products.

Even with trial software that starts out as a free product, subscription renewals are eventually required to keep the software updates current. Do not make the serious mistake of continuing to use an antivirus product that no longer provides signature updates because you did not pay the annual subscription fee.

Another strategy besides free trial software is to switch to a completely free virus protection product. Many of these free products provide stiff competition to their commercial counterparts and come highly recommended. Here are some links to free antivirus software vendors:

Bit Defender


AVG by Grisoft Software

Avira AntiVirus

Kaspersky Lab

Pre-Installed Software on New Computers

New computers often come with more than one antivirus software program pre-installed. Never run more than one antivirus software product on your computer at a time. Running more than one software solution can create serious performance conflicts, slowing down the computer and even causing it to lock up.

If your new computer has a pre-installed antivirus software product, make sure you activate it. Some installations require you to click on the program icon to uncompress the program and fully install it. Also remember to configure the settings for automatic signature updates. When the free trial period expires, be sure to pay for a renewal or uninstall the program and replace it with another security product.

Installation Tip for Infected Systems

Protect your PC!If you are installing an antivirus product on other than a new computer, check the installation directions for use with a possibly-infected computer. Putting an antivirus product on a computer that already has one or more viruses can disrupt the program and render it useless.

Special directions will take you step-by-step through a process of rebooting your computer from the installation disk. This will allow the computer to load in a special way that will avoid running the usual programs that start at boot up.
Doing this interferes with the virus and allows the antivirus product to scan the computer for signs of virus infection.

If the virus scan detects an existing infection, the security software can often remove or quarantine the virus and continue with the rest of the installation. If it cannot remove the virus, the installation directions will tell you how to continue manually.

This concludes our tip on protecting your computer from hackers and the viruses they create. For more information on specific viruses and how to remove them if need be, visit the Symantec and McAfee websites. Stay tuned for more on how to stay protected against other types of malicious software coming soon!


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