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Cleaning Up Your PC For The New Year (part 2)

Happy New Year

It’s that time again – a new year, new resolutions and every attempt to be a better, smarter, smaller (that weight thing again), richer person in 2012. Some of you will even go so far as to do a New Year’s cleaning of your house, car (a source of shame for me, at least) and maybe the dog.

As we consider our new, better lives, don’t forget January is National Clean Up Your Computer Month.  (Will I be getting a Hallmark card?) Aside from our collective “How much money will this cost me” reaction to this, cleaning up your computer is not a bad idea. Only a lucky few of us have a 22 year-old geeky son living in the basement, so most of us are on our own as far as securing our home computers.

The four Clean Up Your Computer tips that I’d like to pass along are:

    1. Secure your wireless network
    2. Backup Everything
    3. Make sure your Virus and Malware protection software is current
    4. Make sure your Operating System and Browser is current

Last week we went over the over the first two of these tips. This week we’ll finish up the final two.

3.     Make Sure Your Virus and Malware Protection Software is Current

Remember when you bought your computer? It was new, the keyboard was not a source of disease and your virus protection was current and updated itself every few days. It has been a while and your virus protection is probably warning you every day about being out of date. Yep, it seems like a scam; the PC vendor pre-installed that free virus software, and now you get hit up for $73 a year just to keep it current.

I will make this my strongest tip of the four. If you do anything on the Internet (and you do) you must have current virus and malware protection (they come together these days). Your home computer is constantly bombarded with virus and malware attacks, regardless of how conservative you might be. Even friendly, seemingly safe emails and websites are being used to infect your computer.

The good old days when an infected computer just meant an embarrassing email was sent out under your name are gone. An infection now means you will have a hidden ‘bot’ (web robot) snuggled down within your PC. This bot may be forwarding your every keystroke to its bot herder (yes, they are really called that) in Korea or it may be one of millions of bots that attacked the Bank of America (from your PC) last week. Or, it may have been responsible for the phishing email that got sent to that nice teacher in Iowa. A great fact: over 77% of all spam emails are sent from computers just like yours (this is over 70 billion in 2010).

New attacks are devised every day – with virus protection software being updated to catch these attacks. As soon as your virus protection lapses and your updates stop, you are just one mouse click away from being one of the 25% of all computers in the US who have joined the zombie armies of botnets.  My advice, pay the $73 and avoid the identify theft.

4.     Make Sure Your Operating System and Browser is Current

While it is essential to install current virus and malware protection on your home computer, Microsoft and Apple are not just leaving you to the cyber-crime vultures. These two giants, as well as the Chrome and Firefox browser folks, are watching the cyber-crime wars and pushing out periodic updates as fast as reasonably possible. The good news with these Operating Systems and Browsers is that these updates are often automatic and usually free – you just need to be connected.

My tip is to take a look at your operating system and browser settings and make sure they are set on automatic update mode. These updates frequently happen when your PC is idle, or in the background, so it should be easy to make your PC life safer.

Along these same lines, if you are using a four-year old home computer you don’t have a snowball’s chance of avoiding virus and malware attacks – the old operating systems and support software in that machine had no way of predicting your current cyber environment and are hopelessly lost in the cyber wilderness. It might not be a bad idea to take a look at buying yourself a holiday gift – those new notebook computers are looking pretty good these days.

Hopefully you will embrace the excitement of National Clean Up Your Computer Month and finally get around to taking a hard look at the state of your home computer. The cyber-world is not just email’s from the kids, Facebook and online shopping. If you’re not careful, you will end up with compromised personal information and unknowingly joining the ranks of zombie computers.

As I said above, some of these clean up tips may be beyond your abilities; that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. If you need to, bring a professional geek in for a few hours. It will be worth every penny.

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