Do You Practice Safe Computing?

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Written by Thomas Meyer (Thom M)   
Tuesday, 06 September 2005

Keep your computer running smooth

Keeping your computer running smooth and free of viruses and other nasties to me is as important as keeping your Road Star running smooth and free of problems. The purpose of this article is to give you the tools and information you need to take care of your computer for no monetary cost, just a cost of a little time. I will include the links to all the software I recommend at the end of the article plus links to sites that can take you to the next level of understanding your computer and where you can find explanations of some of the programs you find running on your computer that you have no idea about.

Lets start with protecting your computer. Most all new computers that come with the Windows operating system already have preinstalled either McAfee or some other firewall. Whats a firewall you ask? Well it is a program that monitors and controls everything that leaves your computer to go on the Internet and everything that trys to get on your computer from the Internet. Sounds like a good idea if you are the one deciding what to give access to, but with the preinstalled programs you don't always have the option. Some functions and websites have already been approved access to and from your computer without your knowledge so that the company who manufacturers your computer and the company that manufacturers your operating system can have some control over the machine that you just paid a ton of money for. It is kinda like the rev limiter on the Star but worse. Instead I recommend using a program called Sygate. This is an excellent free firewall that will ask you first if you want a program to access the Internet and if you want to continue to let it access the Internet, the same is true for programs and websites that are trying to gain access to your computer. Either way you have the option of a one time allow or constant access, you make the decision.

Next lets talk about all those annoying ads and pop ups that suddenly appear on your computer out of nowhere. These are called adware and even with a good firewall they can still sneak onto your computer through your browser whenever you go on line, that is if you use Internet Explorer as your browser. Now you can't take IE off your computer as it is the browser your operating system uses whenever you open a program on your computer, but you don't have to use it to go on line. One of the best and safest browsers to use is the Mozilla FireFox browser. I could write a book on all its' features and add ons, in fact someone already has, but one of its' best features is that it blocks pop ups and adware from being able to access your computer.

But what do you do about the adware and viruses that may already be on your computer or happen to sneak on despite your best efforts to keep them off? Well there are three programs that will take care of them, Avast for viruses, Spybot Search and Destroy for key loggers and the like, and Ad-aware for adware and those pop ups on your machine. Avast scans everything including emails that enter or leave your computer for viruses and worms, it has an automatic update feature that is activated when you register your program for one year, after a year you simply reregistar for another year, again all for free When a new virus or worm hits the net the Avast team is on top of it and it is not uncommon to get at least one update a day and sometimes more.

If you hold down the ctrl and alt keys at the same time and then hit the delete key on most Windows operating systems a screen will pop up which is your Windows Task Manager. This will show you what Applications you are running and also what processes are running. The processes are programs that are running in the background and using up your memory. A lot of programs you download or install are designed to run at startup and most of the time you don't need them to run till you use them. I won't go into a lot of detail here on how to control this, but if you go to the Black Viper website you will find a list of programs that automatically run at start up that are pre-installed with your operating system and whither you need them running all the time and how to turn them of so they won't start when you start your computer. Another great use of the Task Manager is when you are running a program that suddenly freezes on you. Open Task manager, go to applications, hi-lite the program and hit the end task button. This will shut down the application with out you having to restart your computer which is usually your only other option. I also use a free utility here called StartupMonitor. Whenever I install or change a program on my machine and it trys to run at startup this utility will ask my if I want to give it permission to do so, if I say no thats it, that program will only run when I use it and not eat up any resources when I'm not using it.

One last bit of info before I give you a bunch of neat links. I own 3 computers, 2 have 60 gig hard drives and 1 has a 80 gig master drive and a 60 gig slave drive. All 3 have processors going from 1.8 gigs and up. All 3 had just adequate memory when I got them. For the most part computers come with either 250 or 500 mega bites of RAM or Random Access Memory. This is what every program on your computer uses when it is operating, even those running in the background. This is the most common cause when your computer runs slow. One of the most inexpensive and important upgrades you can do to your computer is to add more memory. Memory cards can be bought from $50. and up with 250 MB of ram or more you can add, it will speed up your computer significantly. Mine all came with 250MB and I added 500MB more to each machine for about $80. each giving me 750MB of RAM on each machine. Slow downs are not an issue anymore. I also use a free utility called Free Ram Pro that monitors my memory usage and frees up memory that isn't really being used so it keeps things running fast and gives me a little more control.

OK here's some links to all the programs and utilities I talked about above, plus a few extra ones to sites that can help you further your knowledge of your computer. All links will open in a new window.

  • FireFox Browser Best browser out there, bar none
  • FireFox Central Learn more about FireFox, download plugins, themes, and more.
  • Sygate Personal Firewall An excellent free Firewall.
  • SpyBot Search and Distroy If you insist on or have to occasionally use Internet Explorer this program is great for blocking those viruses and things that comerical websites will try to sneak onto your computer to track your internet travels.
  • Ad-Aware 6.0 If you are getting pop-ups on your computer for no apparent reason, you have adware. Run this to get rid of it.
    Choose either Avast or AVG, you cannot run or use both at the same time.
  • Avast My number one choice for virus and worm protection.
  • AVG My number two choice for virus and worm protection.
  • Startup Monitor Helps you control what programs run at start up.
  • Free Ram XP Pro Monitors your memory usage.
  • Black Viper Excellent website for learning how to control Windows operating systems.
  • Answers that Work The ultimate online Self Help, is what the site says. Alot of good info here.
  • XP recovery If you ever had your computer start then shut down for no reason then you should visit this site. If not, then you should visit this site.
  • Just ask Lou Before you do anything to your computer run the first security test here. You may be suprised. The programs above when used together wil give you the stealth mode they mention here.
  • How Stuff Works Not just about computers, but how all stuff works. Pretty neat site, I think.
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