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5 Critical Steps to Protect Your Computer

Spyware, viruses and worms... oh my!

 If you have just bought - or are planning to buy - a new computer, you need to make sure you get it set up properly if you want to avoid problems down the road.

With all the viruses, spyware and other threats on the internet today, no computer should be set up without the proper protection.

And that protection needs to be in place as soon after you hook up your new machine as possible.

The following five steps will make your computer a much harder target for threats. You still won't be completely immune to problems, but 99% of the time the threat will pass you by, looking for the easy mark.

1. Running a Personal Firewall
A personal firewall is software that basically makes your computer invisible to hackers, worms and other threats that can infect your computer over the internet.

Setting up a firewall is the absolute first thing you should do if you're going to connect to the internet. Without a firewall, your computer could get infected in as little as one minute after connecting.

If you have a brand new computer running Windows XP Service Pack 2, there is a firewall built into Windows. It will already have been turned on when you first set up your computer.

If you're running an older version of Windows, even an earlier version of Windows XP, there is no firewall automatically set up for you. In this case there are two possibilities:

- Your computer came pre-loaded with a firewall such as Norton Internet Security or McAfee Internet Security
- You have no firewall installed and should download one ASAP.

If you don't have any personal firewall software installed, you should do so right away. Zone Alarm is a very good firewall program that has a version that you can download and install for free.

You can download the free version of Zone Alarm from http://www.computer-help-squad.com/zonealarm.

2. Turn on Windows Updates
Again, if you're running Windows XP Service Pack 2 this is already set up, but otherwise you should turn on Windows Updates. Microsoft releases updates for security problems and other bugs in Windows on a regular basis.

These updates will keep your computer running better, and they often fix security issues that could compromise your information or privacy.

If you are running Windows XP Service Pack 2, you can double-check that automatic updates are turned on by clicking Start, then click Control Panel, then double-click Security Center. The window that opens will tell you if automatic updates are turned on, and lets you turn them on if they're not.

To turn on automatic updates in earlier versions of Windows XP, click on the Start menu, click Control Panel and then double-click on System. On the "Automatic Updates" tab, click the option to "Automatically download the updates and install them on the schedule I specify."

To turn them on in Windows 2000, click on Start, click Control Panel and then double-click on Automatic Updates. Again, click the option to "automatically download the updates and install them on the schedule I specify."

Now when Microsoft releases updates, they will be downloaded for you automatically and Windows will tell you when they are ready to be installed.

3. Install & Update Antivirus Software
Most new computers come with antivirus software these days. You might have Norton, McAfee, PC-Cillin or another brand. No matter what program you have, you will need to update it when you get connected to the internet.

It doesn't matter how new your computer is - there will be new viruses, and new updates for the antivirus software, since it was loaded.

The exact process is different for each brand of antivirus program, but most of them will have an icon in the bottom right corner of your desktop, beside the time. The icon might be a picture of a shield (McAfee), a stethoscope (Norton) or something else.

 In most cases, if you point to the icon for your antivirus and click the right mouse button, a menu will pop up with an update option. It could be simply called update or could be something like Live Update or Download Latest Updates. If you click on the update option (with the left button this time) it will install the newest updates for you.

 If you're not sure which icon is for your antivirus software, just point to each one for a few seconds and a little title should pop up telling you what it is.

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