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.
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:
Figure 1.13. During installation AntiVir the program does an initial scan of your hard drive to look for viruses.
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.
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!) http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com right now and download and install it. You can also order a CD with SP2 onboard from Microsoft for free from http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/updates/sp2/cdorder/en_us/.
Also, be sure to check my SP2 installation tips on p. 236 because it can sometimes be a little quirky to install.
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:
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.
This feature monitors your antivirus program and alerts you when it is out of date so you can download the latest virus signatures.