Help! My computer won’t work!

I’m helping people with their computers almost constantly. It’s anything from really simple (turn it on) to really complex (hundreds of thousands of files infected with multiple viruses). This has inspired me to write up some preventative measures one can take. First, let’s define terms. These definitions are from Wikipedia.

  • Virus – A computer virus is a computer program that can copy itself and infect a computer without the permission or knowledge of the owner. The term “virus” is also commonly but erroneously used to refer to other types of malware, adware, and spyware programs that do not have the reproductive ability. A true virus can only spread from one computer to another (in some form of executable code) when its host is taken to the target computer; for instance because a user sent it over a network or the Internet, or carried it on a removable medium such as a floppy disk, CD, DVD, or USB drive. Viruses can increase their chances of spreading to other computers by infecting files on a network file system or a file system that is accessed by another computer.
  • Adware – Adware or advertising-supported software is any software package which automatically plays, displays, or downloads advertisements to a computer after the software is installed on it or while the application is being used. Some types of adware are also spyware and can be classified as privacy-invasive software.
  • Spyware – Spyware is a type of malware that is installed on computers and that collects information about users without their knowledge. The presence of spyware is typically hidden from the user. Typically, spyware is secretly installed on the user’s personal computer. Sometimes, however, spywares such as keyloggers are installed by the owner of a shared, corporate, or public computer on purpose in order to secretly monitor other users.

So, a virus is a malicious computer program meant to harm your computer – there are so many of these and you’ve probably never heard of any of them. Adware is software that automatically advertises – common ones include WeatherBug, AOL Instant Messenger, Kazaa, Limewire, and Windows Live Messenger. These aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re really annoying. Spyware is software that grabs information from your computer – Kazaa, Morpheus, AOL Instant Messenger, and Weatherbug are some of the popular ones.
While many of these programs people use, they are intrusive and shouldn’t be used. Most people’s problems come with lesser known ones that install through the browser or email.

  1. Don’t use a PC. – Often this can’t be helped. However, I’ve never had to work on Linux and rarely had to work on Mac OS X for viruses, spyware, or adware.
  2. Don’t use Internet Explorer – Often this can’t be helped either. (Of course, that’s only if you use websites that don’t follow W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) standards published at – that’s a tangent, though). Instead, use Firefox, Opera, or Safari. If you must use Internet Explorer, please use the newest version (8) with all patches installed (Never, ever, ever use IE6!). Speaking of patches…
  3. Don’t use Outlook Express – This program really is trash. It tends to execute code within emails and show all pictures. I don’t think Outlook does this, but Outlook Express does. For email, use Thunderbird or webmail – check with your email provider for this. Also, please just use Gmail for your personal email. It will block 99% of your spam for you.
  4. Keep your computer up to date – If on Windows, use Windows Update (or Microsoft Update) and keep everything updated. If on Mac OS X, use Software Update and do the same. If on Linux, you probably already know what to do and you’re probably reading this to help those who don’t use Linux.
  5. Use up-to-date anti-virus software – Often when I’m fixing someone’s 3 year old Dell (or Compaq, Toshiba, or whatever), they think that they can’t have viruses, because Norton is running. A simple double-click on the icon in the taskbar shows me the definitions haven’t been updated in 2.5 years and the subscription ran out 2 years ago. New viruses are created all the time. Therefore, you must update at least weekly. Also, don’t feel like you have to pay for anti-virus. AVG Free works just fine. Schedule a weekly definitions update and a weekly scan. If your computer’s off at the time, either run them manually or make sure it runs later.
  6. Use up-to-date spyware scanning software – Install either Spybot Search & Destroy or Ad-aware Free. Keep them update and run them just like you do your anti-virus software. Period.

Hopefully this has been helpful. Any questions?

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