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Computer Central

Virus control, spyware and backups: What you need to know
Scripps Howard News Service


November 02, 2005

I think if there were a hall of fame for letters that I receive it could be on three topics. One would be virus control, one is spyware and the other is backups.

So I thought I would cover them all in one column to give people the basics.

First, let's cover viruses. If you own a Windows PC, you need to have a current anti-virus product installed and running. There's no longer a debate about it, no longer a way to be "really careful what you open" and do without it.

There are dozens of products out there for you to use and even some excellent free ones like AVG Free and Avast. It is such an important issue that Microsoft will be adding anti-virus to the next version of Windows as a pre-installed accessory. Once you have it installed, you need to make it a ritual to update it once a week. I know that many programs claim to update automatically, but don't even trust that. Once a week just run the update program manually. Once you update it, kick off a manual scan of your computer's hard drives.

The above may take 5 minutes but it will protect your data. The scan may take hours; I let mine run overnight on Fridays.

With an Apple computer, anti-virus software is purely optional in my opinion. I know there are some divergent opinions on this and there's no harm in having it if you can afford it. But since there are no Apple viruses in the wild and the machine is designed to be more secure than a Windows machine, there's little risk.

Ditto Linux, Amiga, and the Commodore 64.

On spyware, this also is a Windows machine issue.

This can be a far more complex issue depending upon whether you are already infected or simply trying to prevent an infection. If you already are infected, you may be able to eliminate the infection by using three or four products (there isn't one that does a an effective removal job by itself.) You can try AdAware, Spybot Search & Destroy and Microsoft Anti-Spyware beta for free, then add Webroot's Spy Sweeper and perhaps PestPatrol.

A skilled professional can be required to get rid of some infections. And some infections require a complete erasure of the PC and reinstallation of the operating system and everything on it.

The motto of the spyware world is nothing is free on the Internet. When sites offer you "free" software understand the payment for that software is spyware that will be installed with it.

Again, Macs are mostly immune from spyware and pop-up issues.

Lastly, we're talking about backups. I know people who back up their computer are rare. However, you have to realize that hard drives fail (a lot of them, a lot of time), mostly with no warning at all. With today's digital cameras, I have run into a lot of sad people in my repair business who have lost their hard drives and all of their photos. (Recovery is possible in most cases, but can cost more than $1,000 in a special lab.)

So, today, copy your most important files to CD or DVD or buy a USB external hard drive and copy them there. (Or both, if the data is important.) Mac users may prefer a drive that has the FireWire interface.) You can get a large external drive for less than $100.

And turn its power off when you're not using it.

If you want to back up your whole PC, I recommend Acronis True Image, which will back up your entire drive to an external drive in 15 minutes. It is simple, easy and money well spent.

WEEKLY WEB WONDER: You also can back up your files to an external Web site for a monthly free. The leader in this technology is XDrive (


James Derk is co-owner of CyberDads, a computer repair company,
and a computer columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.
His e-mail address is jim(at)

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