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Protecting your computer from hackers and viruses

By Charles Hopkins Published 11/28/2007 | Internet
Whenever you are connected to the Internet, it is a sad fact of life that your computer is at risk of being infected with a virus or spyware, or even of being hacked. This can happen without you even knowing about it. It doesn't matter whether you are just browsing through websites or signing up or logging in as members on others, you are still in danger of being compromised. The good news is that you can protect yourself by following a few simple steps.

Routers and Firewalls
It is recommended that you get yourself a router if you don't already have one - this is still important even if you only have one computer in your home. The router will act as a hardware firewall - the best kind. It will protect personal information stored on your computer and keep it safe and will also protect your computer from all kinds of viruses.

Hackers may try to gain access to your computer by port scanning and a hardware router is more likely to be able to completely block the scans or at the very least slow the hackers down. Most of the hackers on the net don't want to waste too much time trying to over-ride a router and are much more likely to move on - onto another victim who hasn't got such powerful deterrents on their computer.

There are also lots of software firewalls to choose from if preferred - check your operating system to see if there is one included - Windows Firewall for instance is included with the Windows Operating System. Or there are large brand names (Norton, McAfee for example) that usually include other components and have several packages to choose from.

There are four main types of protection that you will need to have in order to protect yourself and your computer. These are:

1. A firewall
2. An automated virus scanner
3. A spyware scanner
4. A general anti-virus protection program

1. Firewalls
A firewall is essential to stop anyone or anything intruding or hacking into your computer. There are many software versions available and some are free to download and use. ZoneAlarm is highly recommended and is available for free for non-commercial users. You can get it here:

http://filehippo.com/download_zonealarm_free/ and it includes the following features (taken from their website):

A. Intrusion Blocking systematically identifies hackers and blocks access attempts.

B. Stealth Mode automatically makes your computer invisible to anyone on the Internet.

C. Automatic Program Configuration provides safety and simplicity by automatically configuring programs.

D. Automatically decides whether to allow or deny Internet access to individual programs.

E. Expert Controls give savvy users precise control over security settings.

Whilst the free firewall does provide you with basic protection from intruders, an anti-virus program does not come with the free version of ZoneAlarm, which would normally be included with any retail firewall software. This means that you will need to install other programs to run alongside it.

2. Automated Virus Scanner
Virus Scanners are automated programs, which run in the background whenever your computer is turned on. They run quick scans of every file in the background and they don't utilize much memory to run so are an ideal addition to your protection suite of programs. There are free virus scanner programs on the net which you can use, A2 Guard or ASquared are highly recommended or check your ISP for any special offers that they may have running - some offer big reductions on the larger retailers software.

3. Spyware Scanners
Spyware Scanners are protection programs that scan your computer for spyware - you can usually set it to run at certain times, probably once a month would be adequate. Again check with your ISP to see if they include a free spyware scanner to run in the background or there are others available for free, including Ad-Aware which is very easy to use.

Spyware can be installed without you knowing it when you browse a website which has infected cookies. The spyware protection program will stop these being installed, or will at the very least ask you to choose whether to accept or reject the cookies when it suspects something suspicious is going on. It is highly recommended that you reject them.

4. Anti-Virus Protection
A general anti-virus protection program scans your computer for viruses and will either delete them or it will quarantine them until you decide to delete them. There are free anti-virus programs available, or you can buy complete packages. Once again, check with your ISP to make sure that they are not running any special offers on anti-virus protection programs.

If you have these protection programs installed on your computer and have them set up correctly to run in the background whenever your computer is turned on, you should have no trouble whilst browsing websites on the Internet.

Staying vigilant and being armed with protection is certainly the best way of keeping hackers, viruses and spyware away from your computer.