If you use a computer, you need to know more than just how to use your email and surf the web. You need to know that you are protected. If there isn't someone responsible for the computers in your home or office, then pick someone, quick. Their job is to assure you that everything I've listed below is getting done on a regular basis so you can relax a little.
This should go without saying, but I still run into computers with expired Antivirus software quite often. In 2005, Antivirus software needs to be updated daily, and paid for yearly. If you haven't paid for a subscription, then you don't have current Antivirus Software.
Every month, someone should verify that your installed AV Software is running, and that is updating automatically, with current virus definitions. Sometimes they stop working or updating because they get attacked between updates. You must remain virus free.
Spyware is EVIL software that is getting worse every day. Spyware is probably what's wrong with your computer. If you have not run spyware removal software lately then I guarantee that you have some on your system. It's that simple.
For you to remove the Spyware yourself, you must run an updated version of your favorite Spyware removal software at least once a month. Weekly is better. Just like Antivirus software, it needs to be updated all the time. However, unlike Antivirus software, most Anti-Spyware software will not update on its' own. Most have to be set to auto-update and protect you from further infection.
Microsoft discovers and repairs flaws in their Windows Operating System on a near weekly basis. These "fixes" or "patches" are available for free at their website, and you should insure that your Windows updates are being done. Now that you probably have high speed internet, this step is critical for the security and functionality of your computers. Once you get some spyware, these security holes are being exploited.
In Windows XP, you can schedule this to happen automatically in the Properties of My Computer. I use auto update for myself, and all peer to peer networking customers. In a server environment, I don't recommend it.
For other Windows versions than XP, you should update your Windows on a monthly basis at windowsupdate.com
There are dozens of software programs that can start up when Windows loads, slowing your computer to a crawl. These are usually apparent in the task bar by your clock, and by pressing CTL ? ALT ? DEL to see the services and applications. If you need a scroll bar, you're bogged down!
By using a Windows utility called msconfig you can manage your startup items. Go to Start ? run and type msconfig ? then press Enter. Go to the Startup tab and you'll see the choices under the startup tab. Be careful in there, and pay attention.
A Firewall keeps people from coming into your computer over the internet. Spyware and Trojan horse viruses make it easier for hackers to get into your computers, but even when your system is clean, the risk of attack is still there, if there's a Windows hole (and there is). You need a firewall, and if you have a wireless connection, you need secure password protection on the router to keep your neighbors out.
On a monthly basis, you need to be sure that your firewall, whether (software or hardware) is both turned on, and current. I can't tell you the number of times I find it intentionally disabled, with no malicious intent, but unprotected nonetheless. More knowledgeable users should review the logs for any abnormal activities.
Windows XP has a free firewall that is much better than nothing, and getting better every month with Windows update. To insure yours is on, go to Start ? Help and support ? and type firewall.
Windows has two built in utilities called Scandisk and Disk Defragmenter. Scandisk checks the surface of your hard disk for flaws or errors that may be developing, and Disk Defragmenter rearranges the files on your hard drive for faster and easier access.
Depending on the version of Windows you're using, the names are a little different, but the utilities can always be accessed in the following way...
Reboot first, minimizing the amount of programs running in your Startup. Go to My Computer, and right click on your hard drive (usually the C: drive). Go to Properties and select the Tools tab and run Scandisk or "error checking" and Disk Defragmenter or "Defragmentation". In some computers, you'll need to reboot again.
It's well worth doing these once a month to keep an older computer running well, however, they are time consuming, and I confess, I do not run them. Ever. That's only because I have a good backup system.
Backup, Backup, Backup
You have to have a backup of all your important data. For some home users that means one folder (usually My Documents) and their email. For others, their data can be scattered all over a computer in different folders, or in some cases, a network. Just figuring out where the data is can be a problem. Get a handle on it right away and know what needs to be backed up.
You will lose data some day, and you'll either be inconvenienced or devastated. It's your choice. I prefer to use a convenient local disk copying program called Second Copy. However, to protect against fire or theft, everything from my kids' baby pictures to last night's spread sheet is securely backed up and archived over the internet.
These things above are not difficult, but they take time. Someone in the business or family needs to see these gets done on a routine basis. If you do them, your computers will not only be more secure, but they'll run faster and have fewer problems.
Scott Hendison lives in Oregon, and is the owner of Portland Technology Consultants. He is a computer and internet consultant, and has been in the industry since 1995. For over 75 other articles, visit his website at http://www.pdxtc.com