It’s Clean Up Your Computer Month

Published 9:05 am Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Free Anti-Virus Software:

1. Microsoft Security Essentials:

2. AVG:

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Free Anti-Malware Software:

1. Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware:

2. Ad-Aware:

3. Spybot – Search & Destroy:

1. Protect your home network: Use a Cable / DSL Router to hide your computer or home network from the Internet.

2. Prevent viruses and spyware: Install and use anti-virus / anti-spyware software.

3. Protect against vulnerabilities and exploits: turn on windows updates and set it to update automatically.

4. Use strong passwords: At least eight characters long, a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters and include numbers and symbols and change the password every 60 to 90 days.

5. Use e-mail cautiously: Don’t open e-mail attachments from strangers; attachments such as videos and pictures can contain viruses, Trojan Horses, Malware or Key Loggers.

6. Avoid P2P or Peer to Peer File Sharing: Peer to Peer File Sharing software is commonly used to download pirated music, videos, movies, and software.

7. Avoid freeware and shareware: Shareware and freeware often contain spyware that send information regarding your Internet and computer usage to the software company.

8. Protect your children: Monitor your child’s Internet use and keep their computer in a public area of the house.

9. Protect your data: Backup all computers on the home network, or at least your data, to a DVD, external hard drive or tape drive.

10. Power surges: Use a battery backup surge protection device to prevent damage to the power supply or electronic components of computers, monitors, printers, routers, IP Phones and other devices in case of lightning or electrical power surges.

— From Riverland’s Robert Silbaugh

As January begins, people trade fast food for fruit and flood the gym as they begin working on their weight-loss resolutions, but how many focus on their computer’s health?

National Clean Up Your Computer Month is an effort to remind technology owners to resolve to improve performance. A computer’s performance is affected greatly by what programs are installed on it and how files are organized.

The first and easiest step to increase performance is to defragment the computer’s hard drive, said Robert Silbaugh, network security instructor at Riverland Community College. This step will organize and compact files on the disk allowing your computer to run more efficiently.

He said to defragment a personal computer, go to “My Computer,” then “hard drive properties” and under tools click the defragment option.

Another simple step is to avoid running multiple toolbars on Internet Explorer. He said users should use a maximum of one toolbar and consider using none.

“Consider using a different Web browser like Firefox,” Silbaugh said. “It has less features but keeps your computer running faster.”

Parents should monitor their children’s Internet use and keep them from using tier-to-tier file sharing programs such as Limewire or Kazaa, he said.

“File sharing is a real problem because it is widely used by hackers to compromise computers,” Silbaugh said. “It isn’t just a performance issue, it’s a security issue and it’s illegal.”

To combat computer hackers, users should have competent anti-virus and anti-spyware programs installed, he said. Anti-virus programs prevent, detect and remove computer viruses, worms and Trojan horses while anti-spyware software removes and blocks spyware, a type of malware that collects information about the computer’s user.

If a person cannot afford anti-virus and anti-spyware programs, there are many free editions online.

“The difference between free and purchased anti-virus software is what it protects against and its options on scheduling scans,” Silbaugh said. “Free software often doesn’t have customer support but is better than nothing.”

While Microsoft and Apple both recently released new operating systems, Windows 7 and Snow Leopard, respectively, users should take precautions before installing them on their computer, he said.

He said to run Windows XP, computers should have 2 GB of physical RAM. To run Windows 7 and Snow Leopard, that jumps to 4 GB.

“The most important thing that affects computer performance is the amount of RAM,” Silbaugh said. “The biggest thing to remember is that home computers are often sold with a minimum amount of memory.”

Of course, not all the steps are guaranteed to increase your computer’s performance. Some problems may need professional attention.

“You need further assistance if the computer is frequently locking up and the anti-virus and spyware programs aren’t working,” Silbaugh said. “Once it has gotten to this point the computer is not longer usable.”

Before you perform any of these steps, though, make sure to back up all your files on an external hard drive to protect your data.