It seems that every week there's a new threat to your PC. First hackers, then viruses, then worms, then trojans, then rats.... and it won't end there. It's a sad fact of internet life.

But for every threat, there's a method of protection. This is a quick guide to the minimum protection that every PC needs.


When your PC and/or network is connected to the internet, you must have something that will stop people on the internet from getting into your PC, but still allow you go out to the internet. You want to go out, but not let anyone in. That is the job for a "firewall" and although there is software that performs this function, you can't beat a simple and reliable $39 firewall/router hardware box. Having a hardware firewall between your internet connection and your PC and/or internet is your very first line of defense. Otherwise there is nothing keeping anyone on the internet from getting into your PC.
NOTE: Many newer DSL modems have firewall/router functionality built in. If your aren't sure you need to check.


Hackers find holes in the Microsoft Windows operating system that your PC is (most likely) using. The typical threat is a "worm" and it can create havoc on your PC and network. Your PC, if configured correctly, will use the Microsoft Windows Update service to check and download any critical updates automatically at 3am each morning. You should check your Windows Updates manually every week to ensure they are up to date.

NOTE: Some versions of Microsoft Office may also require updates and may not be automatic. To check for updates and install them manually, just click here: and follow the instructions on the Microsoft Office web site.

NEW: Microsoft has come out with Service Pack 2 for WindowsXP. Known as SP2, it includes many important security fixes and also includes a new Security Center program which has a Windows Firewall. It is part of the Windows Update. Make sure you have it.

Pay attention to Windows Update messages. Sometimes the Windows updates, although automatic, still require you to approve them before they are installed. Look for the yellow shield in the bottom right corner of your screen.


3 - NORTON ANTI-VIRUS Symantec is the industry leader in anti-virus software. Your PC should have Norton AntiVirus software (NAV), installed and configured correctly. It is important to understand that viruses mutate, so in order for NAV to be effective it must obtain the most recent virus definitions on a regular basis. If you are connected to the internet with DSL, Cable or T1 access, then the Live-Update feature of NAV will take care of that for you. As long as your subscription is valid (it must be renewed annually) then LiveUpdate will check and download the important virus definitions. AntiVirus software with old virus definitions is close to being useless at protecting your PC. You should run Norton Antivirus weekly to check the dates of your virus definitions and the status of Norton AntiVirus on your computer.

Note: If you suspect that your PC is infected with a virus, and you are having trouble installing or renewing your antivirus definition subscription, you can try a virus scan from Symantec's web server. It's easier to install, although it may take longer to run a full scan. Click here and look for the check for security risks icon and then follow the instructions to perform a Virus Detection scan.

For home use, you can also try the free antivirus software AVG at


Trojan programs, also know as "spyware", are small programs that get into your PC and perform some sort of task. Most simply collect data from your PC and sents it back to a main server someplace. It may collect your shopping history or your music listening preferences. Some trojans, called "malware", will also cause more serious problems with your PC. Your PC may have been "hi-jacked" by a trojan program if your web home page changes, or if you start to get alot of pop-up advertisments. Your PC may have been one of the millions of PCs that were turned into a "zombie" and used, without the user's knowledge, to launch a massive attack against web sites like Microsoft, Yahoo, or Google.

Microsoft offers free software to help to remove and prevent spyware. Its currently in BETA testing, but you can downloaded here: Windows Defender .


Log off your PC, but don't shut it down at night. Some people think it's safer to turn off your PC at night to protect if from lightening and storms. But if your PC is connected to a proper electrical surge protector or battery-backup unit, this is unneccessary. You should "log off" your PC at night, but keep it powered on. This will allow it to perform the required Windows and AntiVirus updates in the middle of the night. (more info)

One common complaint we hear is: "John's son sat down and used my computer to surf the internet while I was at lunch today and now everything is messed up." No matter how trustworthy your co-workers are, you should still use a password on your computer. You should have a password when you logon the computer, and a Windows password protected screen saver that turns on after 15 or 30 minutes when your computer is unattended. Choose a password that is not easy to figure out. Look here for more information on how to choose a good password. Also, be aware that there are some computer viruses that prey on computers that have no passwords.

If you have are using a wireless network connection, make sure that you turned on the Wireless Encryption (WEP or WPA), to keep your wireless network private. Otherwise your neighbors or anyone within a few offices or houses away from you can easily connect to your network and quite likely to your PC. There are many people who install wireless networks or wireless routers without turning this feature on properly.

It is extremely important that you backup up your data on a regular basis. To determine the best and most effective way to do this you must first determine what data you need to backup and then what events you want to protect yourself against. Backing up a file from one folder on your hard drive to another doesn't offer that much protection. Backing up to another PC or server on your network is better, but doesn't protect you from all risks.
See our Guide to Protecting Data for more information.

It doesn't matter how advanced technology gets, always remember the old saying:
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure".

©2009 Outer Limits Consulting