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bulletWhat are the Best Ways to Protect My Computer From Viruses?
There are several precautions to take, but we'll answer this in a very simple way:  install virus protection software.  While it's not perfect, it's one of the best tools to have.

A large number of the inquiries we get here at are from computer owners who are keeping track of all the virus warnings so they can avoid infection.  That's why there are so many forwarded emails about viruses.  People are helping one another by staying informed.

It is a losing battle, however, to try to combat viruses by watching for one that might come into your computer.

There are at least three reasons for that.

The sheer number of viruses
There are more than 50,000 known viruses with more than 500 new ones being discovered each month.  It's impossible to have the details about all of them fresh in your mind.

Some Viruses Hide
Many viruses are associated with particular subject lines, file names, or messages, but others can get into your computer without any evidence that they are sneaking in.

The Identifying Information can Change
Very often, the email warnings that are circulated about viruses include descriptions that can change.  For example, it is common for some viruses to be associated with a particular word or phrase in the subject line of an email.  It is very easy, however, for that wording to be changed along the way and the virus can arrive in your email box without the kind of information that will alert you.

Additionally, there is not a centralized clearing house for naming and profiling viruses, so some of the information about particular viruses may not be consistent.
bulletAnti-virus Software
Good virus protection software is always watching what is happening on your computer and can consult information about known viruses in a fraction of a second.  Additionally, most virus software programs offer regular updates that add information about any new viruses.

We've received many emails from readers who have anti-virus software that did not protect them from a particular virus, but most of the time, it was because they were not getting the latest virus updates from the makers of the software.  It's easy to either let a subscription to the updates lapse or, if the software came on a new computer, to not realize that the mere presence of the software is not enough.  It needs to be updated, usually by either registering the program or purchasing an annual subscription, which is not very expensive when compared with the headaches that can happen from viruses.. 
bulletOther Precautions
As valuable as virus software is, it is not perfect, especially if you happen to get a virus that is brand new and may not be known to your software.

There are several good, sensible things to do to protect your computer.

Beware of Attachments to Emails
Probably the single most important non-software protection from viruses comes from being suspicious about emails that have any kind of attachments, especially program files (ones that have an "exe" extension).  There are infections that can come with or in other files as well as well, however, so the focus should not be on exe files only.  For example, there are troublesome consequences from programs that have been constructed with macros in Word For Windows documents.  The majority of viruses that come through email are in attachments, however, so being cautious about them can be important.

It might be easy to think that if you simply made it a point to never open an attachment, you would never get a virus and some people have made that recommendation.  Even that is no guarantee, however, and we don't recommend that be a substitute for anti-virus software.  There are at least two infections that we know of that can happen from an email that has no attachment.  Also, it's just very easy to absent-mindedly open an attachment or for somebody else using your computer to open one.  Not long ago, we received an article from a gentleman who advised his mailing list that virus protection software is a waste of money and that he's kept his computer completely clean by avoiding attachments.  At that same moment, however, his computer had been infected with the "SirCam" virus and had already received more than 10 infected files emailed from his computer. 

Be Cautious About Files From Other Sources as Well
Most discussion about viruses centers on emails, but the reason is that email is the most common vehicle for sharing files with one another.  Any means by which you can exchange files can be a channel for viruses such as floppy disks, CD's, and some files downloaded from the Internet.  It's a good idea to check floppy disks with your anti-virus software, especially if someone is giving you some programs or files on a floppy.  

Backup, Backup, Backup
Computers are amazingly reliable  when you consider what delicate machines they are, but the chances of losing your treasured files are great, especially from viruses.  You can also lose files from equipment failure, software glitches, theft, and disaster such as flood or fire.  Most of us haven't gotten serious about backing up our important files until a disaster occurred, but we do it now!  Just imagine how you would feel waking up tomorrow morning to a complete loss of everything on your computer.  That's the incentive to establish some system of backing-up your files.  There are a lot of ways to do it such as making copies of the files on floppy disks, CD's, or removable drives such as the Iomega Zip or Jazz drives.  Our favorite is an online backup service that uses the Internet to automatically upload the files that you've chosen to protect.  That way, you'll still have your important data even if flood or fire destroys everything else.



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