Keep The PC Healthy With These 10 Simple Steps!

Here’s one from the Just Ask Kim reader mailbag… which this time began as part of a conversation over on Facebook!

Vanessa Van Horn began a discussion asking…

“Just picked up my laptop. Wow!!! They removed 162 viruses. Its 4 months old. Wth?

And Kim, I have Trend Micro- what do you know about that one? (obviously didn’t work, lol) but the guy said that I could get this at any time, there are 2 going around and that it’s bypassing all these antivirus softwares. Is that true?”

My response…

Hey Vanessa, sounds like you’ve been through some scary stuff! Glad your tech got you sorted out. You’re asking great questions about how to prevent this from happening again, so let’s cover some basics that the tech may not have covered with you.

Here’s Some Tips To Help Keep Your PC Healthy!

Tip #1: You’re already doing one of the first “right things right”. You’ve ditched Norton, McAfee and Microsoft Security Essentials in favor of a respected antivirus solution. Generally I recommend something like Avast Pro, Kasperski, or AVG Pro… but Trend Micro doesn’t generally have a bad reputation.

Trend however was one of almost half of all antivirus companies that has been slow in responding to, and protecting you from, the recent Java based exploit.

Tip #2: Your tech is actually right (though it goes against popular belief) about the fact that in the very early days of a particular virus it often evades every virus scanner out there. We routinely deal with ones that go around before the antivirus companies are able to write a corrective file.

It’s kinda like vaccinating for the flu. Someone has to get sick, a sample has to go to the lab, the lab has to analyze it, and a vaccine has to be prepared which unfortunately all takes time! (And in the meantime, more people are catching the darn thing!)

Tip #3: Regarding the ”162″ thing… don’t let that scare you. Viruses are like teenage kids throwing a drunken party… if one can get in, and you’re not home… they invite ALL of their friends. It could have been 1, 7, 83, 162 or 561 just as easy. I’ve cleaned up systems in every realm.

Majority of the time, this is made worst by the fact that the first one in deactivates the antivirus!

Tip #4: I know some others have given you advice about possibly switching to the antivirus known as AVG Pro. Lately, I prefer AVAST Free and Pro over AVG. Trend usually is a pretty decent company and I wouldn’t be fast to fault them as guilty in this situation.

We’ve used both-all in client systems in both retail and enterprise. Everyone has their favorites but the differences are splitting hairs. (Generally though, pro trumps often free for a number of valid reasons in terms of added security.) Currently, I personally use Avast Pro and I put it into “gaming mode” aka silent mode to minimize it’s resources when I’m hosting a webinar event.

Bitdefender, Kaspersky, etc… all of these big name antivirus companies are “generally” good and “good enough”.

Tip #5: One thing is important to note… never try running 2 antivirus programs at the same time. One will stop the other from working and visa versa… but it happens silently. Unfortunately, this is happening a lot lately with people that have enabled Microsoft Security Essentials (which sucks) and then have a real antivirus. The two conflict and you get negative protection.

In this case, unfortunately, the two guard dogs simply end up fighting on the front porch while the burger sneaks in the back door.

Tip #6: Be sure your using a router at home. If your computer is plugged straight into your cable/dsl modem… you’re sitting duck. Go to Walmart/BestBuy, etc and get a router. It goes between your PC and your main internet connection. (Either by a cord from the router to the system or by a wireless connection from the router to the system.)

While yes, it can add wireless, extra ports etc, one of the most important thing it does is make it substantially harder for critters that are literally just roaming around the web to get right up to your PC’s doorstep. Its a rather foolproof layer of easy-to-add security. Most people today are using a router already but if you’re not, thought I’d note it. For this particular use, a midrange router is just as good as a high end router. No need to spend a ton.

Tip #7: A good MALWARE scanner… is different than a virus scanner and may or may not be built into a “pro” version of a virus scanner is something you also want. Malware scanners do not generally in-fight like antivirus scanners do. Three examples are Ad-Aware (they have a free version), Spybot Search & Destroy (free), and Malwarebytes.

These don’t necessarily need to be left running if your system is slow but a good once a month run will head off trouble. (AA and MB both have a real time scanner though I believe that would make you even more safe if your pc is fast enough to not be bogged down by adding it.)

Effective handling of MOST types of malware however has been one of the things I’ve found that Avast Pro is doing a great job at currently. (Check your version of Trend and see if they have a malware scanner built in. If not, get one, if so, then your likely set.)

Tip #8: Several people that responded mentioned a Mac… well… that’s an idea. However, the problem is that while, yes “not virus proof” many of the viruses that DO affect them are “rootkit” and require a complete wipe of the system often including data lose if you don’t have a remote backup (and a remote backup can harbor the nasty buggers).

Rootkits exist in PCs as well but given that you had a “clean up” rather than a full reformat, I’d say you didn’t face one. (I honestly MUCH PREFER a clean reformat, every time possible for a whole list of reasons, but that’s a planned attack.) Now that macs can be affected by “drive by” infections where no user interaction is required, their rate of infection is escalating rapidly. There are plenty of perfectly good reasons that some prefer mac, but you have to consider that option with open eyes and a wide grasp of the bigger picture. All Mac users still require a good antivirus and a healthy dose of common sense.

Tip #9: Regardless of whether you’re on Mac or PC, be sure you have a dual-backup system. (Yup, dual!) As a business owner, you have a lot riding on the data on your system (including tax prep).

Generally, the advice is to have a primary backup “in the cloud” or to an external drive that is not physically in the same geographical region as you are. (Literally, out of state) The reason for this is that you want your primary full backup to be immune to the risks of flooding, tornadoes and other natural disasters. That’s one of the reasons the cloud is convenient.

Two cloud based tools that are industry-grade and worthy of your time to look at include Mozy Backup and Carbonite Backup.

Then as a secondary backup, take your most precious files, including your business documentation, and your kids photos, onto a disk or two… and take them to a family members and get them into a fire proof box there. Offer to do the same for them. (We are not counting on the media to survive in the safe in a fire, most people do not have safe rated high enough for the media to survive.) This gives you a local copy of key critical files.

Today, no mother has to go through the horror that mine did of losing ALL of our baby pictures in a house fire… and having to piecemeal through friends and family to try to re-build the two small albums I have today.

Tip #10: One final tip, if your computer (or more often a laptop) is regularly turned off, it is possible that the antivirus has not been updated and ran in weeks or months due to the system never being on and online at the scheduled time. Particularly with laptops (and desktops that are turned off) you should check that the scanner has been run recently.

Vanessa Van Horn:

Kim you are a computer wizard. Thank You for the info! You are the BEST. I would have put on the AVG with Trend. You just saved me another headache. and ps. I love your analogy ;)


You’re welcome :) I’ve been doing this kinda stuff a long time so (and cleaned up literally hundreds of systems as a bench tech) so I kinda know what people’s first instinct is to do! If one bandaid isn’t enough… slap another one on it! Ooops… sometimes that doesn’t work as planned!

Once you understand the fundamentals of what is going on, keeping a PC safe most of the time isn’t a particularly taxing proposition.

However, sometimes, just like web security of our blogs and websites, even a well guarded fortress may come under attack.

There’s no shame in dealing with these issues if you’ve done all the things you should have done in the first place… sometimes, luck of the draw just doesn’t come out in our favor!

Fortunately though, when that’s the case, that’s why techs local to you are available to do cleanup work .

I hope you enjoyed this mailbag edition of Just Ask Kim and that these tips help you stay safe online!