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Are You Well Protected?

Winter?the official start of the cold and flu season. Though, technically speaking, things got started a little early. Close to a million computers, mostly home PC users, have been infected.

For many of us our computers are our business. We keep in contact with customers and clients via email, do extensive internet research, and transmit important files electronically.

We know what to do to protect our bodies from viruses. There are some simple strategies, and even free precautions we can take to protect our businesses by keeping our PCs virus free.

Adopting the following six checkpoints will help keep your computer healthy and your business uninterrupted.

Use a Firewall

At its most basic level a firewall is a software security system that acts as a barrier between your computer and the outside world (the internet) by monitoring all incoming network traffic. A more advanced firewall will also monitor outgoing traffic. How you use your computer will determine whether basic or advanced firewall protection is needed.

What a firewall does is make your computer invisible while on the Internet. If hackers can't see you, they cannot attack you.

Windows XP has this software installed; however, it may need to be enabled. If you have XP and would like to enable the firewall, directions are on the Microsoft website.

For non XP users, firewall software can be purchased. McAfee and Zone Alarm are two very popular products. Zone Alarm has a free downloadable firewall, basic version, available on their website, www.zonealarm.com.

Before installing a firewall, you may be interested in learning your computer's vulnerability. This is something that can be checked for free and in just a few minutes. Visit the website of Gibson Research Corporation, www.grc.com, and under Hot Spots, click on Shields UP. It takes a little bit of scrolling to get to but is well worth the extra seconds. In minutes your PC is scanned and its vulnerability rated.

Antivirus Software

Antivirus software is the "shot" after the epidemic. This software protects your computer from known threats. Many PCs come with antivirus software already installed. Some of the more popular versions are Norton, PCCillin and McAfee.

If you have it pre installed or have purchased it, great. Please be sure to keep it constantly updated with the latest virus definitions. This is important because these definitions are formed in response to the latest viruses. If you don't have this protection, please consider getting it.

Once this software is installed on your computer, you will be automatically notified when new virus definitions are available. Then it is just a matter of a few clicks to download the new definitions.

Likewise you will be notified when your antivirus software is about to expire. The software needs to be updated annually. The initial purchase, renewal, updates and installation can all be done online.

Spyware Eliminator

Why am I getting all of these pop ups? Certain websites that you visit or free software (shareware) that you download, and, in some cases, hardware purchased from major manufacturers will also install tracking devices on your computer (spyware). Spyware is annoying but not illegal.

An internet search will reveal the many choices available for spyware elimination software. The important thing is to get one and use it consistently. Spybot and PestPatrol are popular choices.

I really like Spybot Search and Destroy. Besides the fact that it is free, once spyware is identified, the software will provide a detailed description of just what it is. This is helpful just in case it identifies something that you don't want to get rid of.

Backup, Backup, Backup

How often do you backup? What files/programs do you backup? What media do you backup to?

We all know the importance of backing up our information yet so many of us don't do it. There may be a ton of reasons why it's not done but the one reason it should be done on a regular basis is that it can be a timesaver, possibly a business saver if your computer system is corrupted for any reason.

If you happen to be using Windows XP Professional, the backup procedure is quite simple. For users of XP Home Edition, it is a bit more involved. Complete instructions, however, are on the Microsoft website.

Typically, data files are what most people need to back up and having well organized files will certainly simplify the process.

Whether you backup to disk, zip disk, DVD, writeable CDs, external file drive or utilize one of the online services, it is important to get into the habit of backing up on a regular basis.

Weekly Updates of Windows

Windows users are automatically notified of current updates for the Windows operating system when your computer is turned on. With just a few clicks your operating system is updated.

However, when certain patches become available for your particular applications software (XP, 2000, NT, etc), as was/is the case with the recent worm viruses, a visit to Microsoft's website is necessary.

Once there, Microsoft will scan your computer, tell you what updates are available, and you then have the option of installing them on your system. In some cases, you will need your installation CDs to complete the download.

With the recent run of viruses and with more expected, it is imperative to check for these updates weekly on the Microsoft website as well as do the automatic updates.

Be Careful of Email Attachments

Email is such a widely accepted method of communication, and this has not gone unnoticed by hackers who use email as a means of mass virus spread.

For this final checkpoint, your due diligence is the only software required.

Always delete any email from unknown senders and be very careful of any attachments you are not expecting from any known senders. As we have seen, hackers can quite easily access Outlook address books to spread viruses.

By the way, including a fake email address in your address book will not prevent your PC from spreading viruses. This is an urban legend. If you're interested in the full story, check out this link:

www.snopes.com/computer/virus/quickfix.htm

When it comes to the health of our computers, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Effective prevention software along with plain old common sense, used consistently, can keep you protected.

About The Author

Roxie Hickman, Virtual Assistant (VA), is the owner of The Virtual Connection. The Virtual Connection (www.thevirtualconnection.net) specializes in working with the 'sucstressed' (successful professionals who are stressed because they've been doing it alone). The Virtual Connection provides offsite executive, administrative, and personal assistance (virtual assistance).

roxie@thevirtualconnection.net

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