Stress-Free Computer Maintenance (Without Spending a Dime)

By Brian Batt

It’s a jungle inside your computer, bombarded as they can be by unwanted advertisements, spyware, malware, adware, dialers, trojan horses, data miners, browser hackers, and worms.

Even worse, you might unknowingly succumb to malicious software that attempts to find sensitive and personal data—like credit card and Social Security numbers—that could be used for identity theft or other illegitimate reasons. Fortunately, there are several pieces of free software available that will aide in the prevention and removal of such business crucial inconveniences.

Spying on Spyware
Spyware is essentially a piece of software that is unintentionally or unknowingly installed on a computer with the malicious intent of changing settings or creating processes that the end-user does not desire. Although most spyware programs are small in size, they can reap havoc on your experience by stealing resources and memory that could be used to process the applications that are intended to be run. The best way to prevent spyware is to refrain from clicking on pop-up advertisements and delete emails from unknown senders even before opening them. Programs like Kazaa and Limewire, both popular file-sharing applications, are highly susceptible to spyware because they allow computers to connect directly through a peer-to-peer network (P2P). When a file is downloaded via P2P networking, it’s practically impossible to know if the file is truly what you intended to download.

Therefore, special care — such as scanning the file for viruses before opening it — must be taken when downloading files via P2P networking.

Remove and Prevent Spyware
Although the very thought of a piece of software maliciously slowing down your computer or stealing personal and private information can be frustrating, there are several free software programs available for download that are built to both remove and prevent spyware. Spybot Search and Destroy is highly acclaimed in the industry. To download and install Spybot S&D, go to www.spybot.com.

Other Anti-Spyware Solutions
Windows Defender
provides not only anti-spyware support, but also several preventative features and options that helps to separate itself from the rest of the pack. The software is packaged with the Windows Vista operating system and can also be downloaded by going to www.windowsdefender.com. The software accelerates in realtime protection with several different monitoring schemes that supervise Internet Explorer downloads, application execution, startup processes, and many others. With a name like Microsoft backing this free product, there’s no reason not to try it.

Ad-Aware 2007 Free Edition, developed by Lavasoft, is another strong product that detects and removes dialers, trojans, malware, and other malicious forms of spyware. This product can be downloaded at www.adaware.com.

Trend Micro’s HouseCall is an excellent solution for getting rid of stubborn spyware and is a highly recommended compliment to the previously mentioned products. Although this option is slow, due to the need for an Internet connection, it gets rid of about 99% of the spyware on the computer. Trend Micro’s HouseCall is available for use at www.housecall.trendmicro.com.

Viruses
Computer viruses have been around since before the introduction of the modern Internet, and are another form of malicious code that can affect a computer via a local network, the Internet, or via e-mail. Simply opening an attachment in an e-mail and unknowingly downloading a virus can cause the computer to automatically delete important files or programs, change settings, or even reformat the hard drive and causing irreversible damage. Fortunately, there are several free solutions that provide both real-time protection and full-blown hard drive scans.

Remove and Prevent Viruses
The first step in the prevention of viruses begins with the computer user. Do not attempt to open an e-mail or visit a website that may be suspicious. If an e-mail contains an attachment from an email address that is not recognizable, delete the e-mail immediately, to prevent any potential infiltration. Also, clicking on advertisements from websites can also lead to the installation of various viruses. Keep in mind that not all viruses are immediately harmful. In other words, evidence of a virus might not occur for hours or even days. Thus, scanning for viruses on a regular basis is highly recommended. The second step in the prevention of viruses is downloading and installing trustworthy software to regularly scan the machine and remove potential hazards as needed. AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition software was developed and produced by Grisoft, and can be downloaded by going to www.free.grisoft.com.

Other Anti-Virus Solutions
There are several high-quality anti-virus solutions found both online and in retail stores that will provide most businesses with sufficient protection. A lot of the software packages available come coupled with not only anti-virus protection, but antispyware as well. Although one-stop-solutions may seem like a great idea at first, they tend to slow the computer down to a crawl due to the vast amount of memory the processes require. Software completely dedicated to one function is usually a better choice. Kaspersky Anti-Virus 7.0, developed by Kaspersky Lab, is one of the best-critiqued, highest-rated anti-virus solutions in Europe. It can be purchased and downloaded by going to www.kaspersky.com/store.

Clean House
A computer must also receive regular care to remain reliable. Computer maintenance begins with removing documents, movies, images, music, applications, or other file types that are no longer used. Deleting old files helps to speed up the hard drive and also ensure that there’s plenty of space for future downloads or software installations.

Remove Unnecessary Software
To begin removing unwanted application or software programs, click on the “Start Menu,” then “Control Panel,” and finally the “Add or Remove Programs” icon. After the list of available programs is populated, simply scroll through the list until a program is found that is no longer needed, and click on the “Remove” button. Don’t attempt to remove a program or application that you don’t recognize, as it may compromise the computer or cripple other applications.

Remove Temporary Files
Temporary files are often created by software packages to aid in the installation process. Unfortunately, these temporary files are not always removed either due to an inconsiderate software programmer or because the computer never reboots. Also, temporary files are used by Internet browsers to save commonly viewed websites to the computer’s hard drive. This can sometimes speed up the download process, but it doesn’t ensure that you’re seeing up-todate content. If not properly maintained, temporary files can take up to hundreds of megabytes worth of hard drive space. Fortunately, iISystem Wiper, developed by iISoftware, helps make this process very easy to maintain. Download it at www.iIsoftware.com.

Keep the PC Updated
A commonly overlooked, yet most important aspects of computer maintenance is keeping the operating system updated. To keep the computer up-to-date with the latest operating system software, hardware drivers, issue fixes, and security measures, go to www.windowsupdate.com. This web-based application gives you the option to update via the “Express” or “Custom” features. Although choosing the “Custom” option will allow you to choose which updates to download, it’s highly recommended to use the “Express” feature, which automatically downloads any and all updates for your machine. By using Windows Update, your computer and your business will run more efficiently than before, with fewer hiccups. Keep all computers updated, so there are no incompatibility issues within your business network.

Summary
Using these tips, software, and solutions, your business’s computers will run more effectively, efficiently, and trouble free than before. Running the anti-virus and anti-spyware solutions on a regular basis will ensure protection from inconveniences and security threats. Windows Update will help the machine stay fresh, with updated drivers and a less faulty operating system. Cleaning internal components of the tower will help the computer run cooler and with less noise. All will give you and your employees an enhanced, stress-free computer experience.

Brian Batt is technical training specialist for Johnson Controls-Unitary Products, Norman, OK. For the full version of this story, visit www.contractingbusiness.com, and search under Editoral/Archive for Stress-Free Computer Maintenance.

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