This series of columns has been aimed at helping our business and home readers avoid preventable computer problems. We conclude this series with a conversation on software programs designed to protect your PC.
Malware consists of viruses, rootkits, adware, bots, ransomware, worms and more, delivered to your PC via the internet and USB devices. Our defenses are anti-malware programs, spam and pop-up blockers, firewalls and common sense. You can spend hours studying the methods of infection and purposes of the various genre of malware but it all comes down to this. What’s the best way to protect your PC, how can you tell when it is infected and what can you do to fix it?
Do not rely on either Microsoft Security Essentials or Windows Defender. Both of these free, often pre-installed defensive software packages have fallen to the bottom of the “effectiveness list.” The free versions of Avast and Avira top that list today. The free versions are as effective as the paid versions for most users. Paid versions have features mainly used by professionals. For “paid” versions we like Kaspersky, Panda and NOD 32. We don’t like Norton or McAffee. In addition to the Anti-virus package, you’ll want the free version of “Malwarebytes.” You don’t need to buy a third party firewall. The combination of your router acting as a “hardware” firewall and the software firewall in your MS Windows OS are protection enough for most users.
Some “malware” infections are obvious. Your PC locks up, slows down, opens up unfamiliar home pages, denies Internet access, constantly flashes banners and pop-ups, won’t open files, won’t allow updates, won’t run malware software. When that happens, try to run your defensive software from “safe mode.” If that doesn’t work, you have a problem. The longer your PC runs with infections, the more likely you are to wind up with corrupt Windows and/or lost data. You need to act. Internet help sites are rarely helpful and usually scams. Subscription and mobile on-site services like “Geek Squad” are expensive and questionably effective (see comments on WWW). Malware removal and OS reinstallation should be done in the shop. 90% of this work is automated and doesn’t require the technician’s attention. In the shop a tech can work on several systems simultaneously. On site or on the phone that tech is charging 100% of his/her time to you. That’s why on-site and subscription tech services are expensive and marginally effective.
Some malware infections use your PC as a “robot” in a “botnet.” This is a criminal network used to “mine” data for the purpose of identity theft or fraud. They don’t want you to know they are inside your PC so they try not to interfere with its normal operation. Millions of Americans are, at this moment serving the evil ends of the “botnet herders” without a clue. Are you?
Most of the infected PCs that come to us have adequate protection software but malware protection software can’t keep users from falling for “Trojan Horse” scams that trick them into inviting the bad guys in. Our advice is to make sure your virus scan is up to date and running and scan your PC once a week with Malwarebytes. Make sure you are running the latest and most secure versions of your OS (operating system), browser (Chrome, Mozilla) and third party ad-ons (Java, Reader, Flash etc). Use the automated update feature in these programs up BUT- only as a reminder. For example, when a screen prompts you to “click” to update your Reader, Java or Flash, DON”T DO IT! It may or may not be legit. Use that prompt as a reminder to go to the legitimate Adobe, Java or Flash website and download the latest versions.
Avoid all these problems and just buy an Apple? Not really. Apple has its own malware and other issues and costs 2-3 times as much as a comparable PC. There are many reasons why Apple’s 7% share of the worldwide PC business continues to shrink. Apples iPhones and iPads are also rapidly losing worldwide market share to Android devices and the iWatch looks like a low tech, late to market flop. Sure the Apple cultists and Fanboys will prop Apple up for a couple more quarters but in our humble opinion, Apple has peaked. Take your profit and run.