Fortify Your Computer: Strong Virus Defense in a Few Hours

So let's say you have a bit more time on your hands. Maybe it's early Saturday morning before the cartoons startand the kids are still dozing in their beds. Maybe you have an hour or two to yourself. Here's what you can do to really protect your computer from viruses.

Install or Upgrade an Antivirus Program

Most people have heard of an antivirus program, but amazingly many don't even have one installed on their computer.

An antivirus program watches what comes into your computer and checks it against a library of known viruses. Some antivirus programs also look for virus-like behavior and stop it before it starts.

There are many antivirus programs to choose from. The two you have probably heard about are Symantec's Norton AntiVirus and McAfee VirusScan. Although no antivirus package is completely foolproof, having an up-to-date antivirus program installed drastically reduces the risk of being infected by a virus.

So how do you get one? Well, you can run out to the store and buy a boxed antivirus product from your local software dealer . Or you can download one from the Internet. For a list of antivirus programs and where to find them, flip to p. 328 for tips on what to buy and an overview of some key titles.

If you don't already have an antivirus program installed, let me show you how to install a free antivirus program called AntiVir.


Many computers come with a free 30-day starter antivirus program that continues to run after the trial period expires . It does not continue to download virus signatures, however. Don't rely on a program like this to protect you. If you haven't updated your virus signatures in years , you are extremely vulnerable to new infections. Dump the program and replace it with an up-to-date antivirus program.

First you'll need to visit AntiVir's website and download the Personal Edition of its antivirus program (see Figure 1.12). It's free and very good! Note that its license allows for private individuals to use it free. If you use it for business purposes, the company asks you to pay for its commercial product.

Figure 1.12. AntiVir is a great antivirus program that's free to download.

Okay, let's get started. Here is what you need to do to install AntiVir:

Connect to the Internet and open your web browser.

Browse to the web page

Look for the Download button, click on it, and on the ensuing page look for a link to AntiVir Personal Edition for Windows 98/Me & NT/2000/XP.

If your web browser is Microsoft Internet Explorer, right-click on the download link on the page and choose Save Target As and then be sure to save the file to a place you can find it later. I like to drop downloaded files into my desktop.

When it is downloaded, close all programs on your system that don't need to be open and double-click on the AntiVir installation file and follow the installation steps.

During the installation, AntiVir scans your computer for viruses (see Figure 1.13). Let it run to completion. This might take a while, especially if you have a big hard drive. You can also stop it and run the scan later if you want, though it's best to let the scanner run until it's completed. After the program is installed, you're much more protected from viruses than you were 10 minutes ago!

Figure 1.13. During installation AntiVir the program does an initial scan of your hard drive to look for viruses.


Why buy a commercial antivirus product when you can get one free? Many smart people are asking the same question and using their hard-earned money to buy nicer bed linen and more flowerpots. I quite like McAfee, so there's no argument there if you want to spend the money. Norton, on the other hand, suffers from bloat-itis. In recent years it has grown unruly and become buggy . However, both companies have kick-butt virus detection groups that write antivirus signatures. A commercial product updates your virus signatures automatically when new signatures are available and certainly more often than once a day as the free version of AVG does. If you buy a commercial antivirus program, you also get telephone support. In a crisis it can be valuable to have someone helpful at the other end of the phone when a virus is gorging on your data.

Scan Your Computer for Viruses

Your antivirus program has the ability to scan your computer for viruses in case a clever piece of code has slipped past your defenses.

I recommend that you run this scan once a week. Some programs have a quick scan feature, which checks the likely places on your computer where viruses like to hide.

It also has an intensive scan that looks at every file on the system and in every nook and cranny. Run the intensive scan once a week. Sometimes this can be scheduled to run automatically. If you leave your computer on, it's a good idea to schedule the intensive scan overnight; maybe on a Friday night so you can deal with any results Saturday morning, if your schedule permits .

Install Service Pack 2 and Enable Virus Protection

As I mentioned earlier, Microsoft issued a major security update called Service Pack 2 (SP2) for Windows XP in the fall of 2004. If your computer was bought since, it likely has this update installed.


I love Grisoft's AVG. It's the best free antivirus program on the market. I show you how to install it in Chapter 8 on p. 223 . So in this section I decided to show you how to install another freebie called AntiVir. It's quicker and easier on system resources, but it does not scan your email for viruses.

Microsoft issued SP2 via Windows Update, its software update service. If you have been religious about using this download service, you probably have already received it and installed it. If not, please visit (and I am begging you!) right now and download and install it. You can also order a CD with SP2 onboard from Microsoft for free from

Do I Have SP2?

Not sure if you have Windows XP's SP2 installed? To figure it out, click your Start button, and then click Run. In the Run dialog box, type winver and click OK. A box displays the Windows version you are running and any service packs that are installed. If you are running Windows XP, look for a notation that says Service Pack 2.

There's always more than one way to do stuff in Windows, so if you don't like that trick because it's too geeky , try this alternate method: To find out which version of Windows is running on your PC, open any folder on your hard drive (My Documents is an easy choice), click on the Help menu, and then select About Windows. A dialog box appears showing the version of Windows running on your PC, as well as any Service Pack updates.

Also, be sure to check my SP2 installation tips on p. 236 because it can sometimes be a little quirky to install.


If your antivirus package allows you to schedule virus scans, try to schedule the scans to occur late at night or while you're at work. The trick is to find a time to scan your drive while you're not busy on the computer. Many antivirus programs give you the option to scan your hard disk when you boot up the system, but if you're anything like most users, you'll find this annoying.

SP2 has some critical virus-repelling features that are discussed in Chapter 8, but the key feature you should pay attention to is the Security Center applet (see Figure 1.14). It is turned on for you when you install SP2. It's a dashboard that enables you to know about three key security systems and their status.

Figure 1.14. SP2 adds the Security Center applet to Windows XP. It enables you to know the status of key security features on your computer.

You can check it out by clicking Start, Control Panel, and double-clicking on the Security Center icon. It's also represented by a little colored shield in the Windows XP System Tray, which is the row of icons at the bottom right of your screen.

The Security Center has three key areas.


I talk more about firewalls in Chapter 3, "Hackers: There's a Man in My Machine," but for now all you need to know is that you should turn the Windows firewall on because it gives you added protection against worms. There would be two scenarios where you wouldn't bother:

  • If you were running a third-party software firewall, such as ZoneAlarm or Sygate, because these programs do a better job than the Windows Firewall.

  • If you have a home network and use a router that shares the Internet connection among several computers. Home Internet routers (sometimes called gateways) have a built-in firewall mechanism called Network Address Translation (NAT) that acts as a firewall. I will teach you how NAT works in Chapter 3. For now, if you have one, you can turn Windows Firewall off.

Automatic Updates

When this feature is turned on it automatically seeks the latest Windows updates and downloads and offers to install them. Turning this on is a must.

Virus Protection

This feature monitors your antivirus program and alerts you when it is out of date so you can download the latest virus signatures.

Absolute Beginners Guide To. Security, Spam, Spyware & Viruses
Absolute Beginners Guide to Security, Spam, Spyware & Viruses
ISBN: 0789734591
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 168

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