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Part 3: Keeping Your Computer Healthy

I was looking over my site today and I realized that it had definitely been a while since I had updated anything. I even left this series unfinished, although I have a feeling there I haven't exactly kept everyone on the edges of their seat waiting for an update.

Anyway, here is the last part of the series, how to keep your computer healthy after you've cleaned it up.

The first thing to understand about keeping your computer healthy is to understand that a lot of the problems are caused by downloads or opening unknown programs. In other words, there is a good chance that you are the cause of the problem, unfortunately. And this doesn't mean you did something "wrong", it only means you need to be a little more wary of the items you get from the Internet.

If you were walking along a street and saw a glass full of something that looked like chocolate shake or coke, would you grab it and drink it and take it with you? I would guess that in most cases, probably not, because you don't know what someone else might have put in the drink before you got to it. The same rule applies to opening up and using programs from an unknown website. In a lot of cases there isn't a problem, but it only takes one program with spyware or a trojan in it to cause your computer to slow down and possibly put private data at risk.

So the first recommendation is don't download that neat "free" screensaver and start running it. And if a site is offering "free" commercial software, like Microsoft Office, remember that there may be more in the package than you bargained for.

However, even if you don't intentionally download there are programs that will try to help themselves to your computer and it's data. There is even a possiblity of downloading a problem program simply by browsing to a page. And unfortunately, the easiest browser for most people to use, Internet Explorer, is the one most susceptible to these kinds of attacks. Since the majority of people use IE, this means that virus writers can save themselves time by writing viruses to take advantage of some of IE's features and install themselves on your computer.

Myself, I use Mozilla, the large big brother of Firefox and use plug-ins for the browser that blcok Javascript on a site by site basis. Firefox is free and easy to install and so is Mozilla. The plug-ins I use are Adblock with Filterset.G.Update and Noscript. The Noscript addition is the one that will help block unwanted installs. It prevents Javascript but on a page by page basis that you choose. Unlike the old style of blocking Javascript for all site or for none, with NoScript you can choose which ones to block or even allow temporarily.

In addition, there are programs that will try to contact your computer directly and install without you being aware of it. There are several solutions to stopping these kinds of programs. One is a hardware solution, where you buy a firewall/router and use it to screen the internet traffic coming to your computer. If you have several computers in your household, this may be a simpler solution since it doesn't involve installing firewall software on each and every computer.

 If you only have one computer, than you can install firewall software or use XP's built-in firewall to blcok the traffic. The key to remember is that you should only allow programs to contact the internet if you trust them or the site they are going to. If you don't, when the firewall software pops up deny the request for accessing the internet or only allow it for a onetime basis. I use Kerio free version, I have also used Zone Alarm free version and both seemed to have worked fine. At least my computer has slowed down and I don't seem to have had personal data stolen, that I can tell.  For more information about firewalls check out this article

There are other methods for keeping your personal data secure, file encryption is one, another is to not store any data on your computer, but with the Internet becoming so prevalent for shopping, bill paying and on-line banking, this can be difficult. The point to remember is that just like the "free" drink sitting on the sidewalk, sometimes "free" items are worth exactly what you paid for them or they may cost you more in the long run with the trouble they cause. 

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