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Computer Care: Keep an eye out for malware, spyware
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Have you ever tried to check your e-mail and found you couldn’t connect? Or maybe you clicked on an icon and nothing happened?

Perhaps your browser’s home page suddenly changed. Ever had your e-mail recipients tell you they got 20 of the same e-mail you sent once?

It’s malware. I have taken out more forms of malware infections from clients’ computers lately than viruses. The problem is, most computer users either ignore the warning signs or don’t know what they are.

Just like with a car, a PC requires regular maintenance, and checking for malware is part of it. There are free programs that will eradicate it; some suites incorporate a malware remover or you can buy dedicated utilities that will do the job.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m an advocate of download.com. It’s a good place to start when looking for a program, free or otherwise. All the programs I mention here are available there for download.

Some of the anti-virus suites on the market now that also have malware tools are AVG, Avira, Avast and Kaspersky. All of these have trail versions so you can test-drive them.

Some good free tools to have on your system are Super AntiSpyware, Malwarebytes, AdAware and Spybot. Keep in mind that many of the companies that sell utilities also have free versions of their product. The biggest difference is they lack any live support. They may also lack some bells and whistles the paid versions have. But they are better than not having anything installed.

The biggest mistake I see people do on their computers is to click on a button or link that suddenly appears out of nowhere. When you get an e-mail from someone you don’t know and it has a link, leave it alone. Just because it may say, “About the money I owe you,” in the subject line doesn’t mean you should click on it. It’s a scam. Delete that message.

Likewise, if you get a pop-up saying your system has 682 registry errors and you don’t have a registry utility installed, do not click on it. Windows will never advise you about these errors. Often, once you get those pop-ups, it’s too late. You are already infected.

If no matter what you click on, you get more pop-ups, then it’s time to buy a “real” program or call a technician to fix it.

In itself, having a lot of pop-ups is a way of knowing you have malware in the form of spy- or adware on your system.

One reason I like Firefox over Internet Explorer, is because it blocks pop-ups.

Aside from malware, what I call POJ can clog your system. That Plain Old Junk is the garbage files in your Recycle Bin, the temp files created by Windows, the history cache left by your browsers, the installers you once downloaded and more. If you get enough of these junk files, it will bring your system to its knees, causing it to slow down.

A good free utility to assist with that task is Advanced System Care. It will keep your registry tidy, optimizing your settings while keeping your system junk-free.

Another good source for free programs and utilities is giveawayoftheday.com. Sign up for their e-mails and wait for something that you can use. You have 24 hours to download and install each program. It will automatically be activated if you install it on time.

About programs like anti-virus and — malware: go to the scheduler and the update parts of the programs to make sure they are set properly. Set the update to automatic and schedule scans at a time when the computer is on, but not being used. Like with defrag, it is hard to use your computer when a scan is running.

Let your programs update as often as they want to and run scans on a regular basis. Check for viruses at least three times a week; the same for malware. Run a program like AVS weekly and defrag your hard drive once a month. Set up your system to put itself to sleep after a certain period of inactivity. Your hard drive will last longer if it’s not on 24/7 needlessly.

Use System Restore to create restore points that you could revert to, should something go wrong.

If you get an error message, especially on a blue screen (BSOD, the “Blue Screen of Death”), Google the exact message to find out what the problem is and take it from there. Use your computer to fix your computer. It’s a wonderful tool.

When you download programs, stay away from version 1.0 or 1.03. Let them work out the kinks and wait for at least Version 2.0.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the problems. They will not go away. They will not fix themselves. They may go dormant for a while, but they’ll be back.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly. Arthur welcomes your computer questions and ideas for future columns.
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