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How To avoid getting a virus – or any other infection that could harm your data

Getting the basics right

There are thousands of viruses and worms out there that could infect your computer. Not all of them are going to completely destroy your data, but they are always difficult to deal with should your PC or network become infected.

As a first – and admittedly obvious step – you should make sure that you have good anti-virus and firewall software running on your systems and that you have an up to date subscription. This software will update automatically if you have a decent Internet connection – broadband is certainly advisable if you have not already got it.

Software companies will warn you when your subscription is about to go out of date – don’t leave it until the last minute to do this; you will not be charged anything extra so make sure you are up to date.

If you are a regular user of the Internet and email – and most people are these days – it will also be worth installing anti-spam and anti-spyware and anti-adware software, and making sure the settings on your firewall are fairly stringent. Most of the major software companies provide all-in-one packages now that include all these functions. It is usually worth having them all.

Incidentally, Microsoft Windows XP already comes with a firewall built in but most experts advise you to install an additional firewall from another software company just to make sure; Microsoft is always the main target for the virus writers and hackers.

Finally, use your anti-virus and malware scanner regularly – at least once a week – to sweep the entire system for hidden threats.

Advanced protection for networks

If you have a network and it is critical to your business, it may be worth putting specific firewalls and security appliances in place at key points on the system. Networks make life more complex and there are many different things that can go wrong when more users are involved. Putting a dedicated security appliance – basically a special box that monitors all traffic coming in and out of the system – will give you much greater levels of protection than the standard anti-virus and anti-malware solutions.

The bigger your installation, the more likelihood there is of your network being targeted by ‘bots’ and by identity thieves.

The former use ‘robot’ networks to surreptitiously launch attacks on other computers, i.e. they hijack your computing power and Internet connection to launch worms or even denial of service attacks on other computers. These ‘bot-nets’ don’t always harm your systems specifically but they will slow them down.

Identity theft is also a major problem now and once again, you need very good all round protection to avoid this becoming a potential threat. If hackers can steal your list of staff identities, they can use them to steal money from your bank accounts, buy products in your name or open up loans and credit accounts with suppliers.

There are also people who will break into your computer and lock it up, preventing you from accessing your files until you have gone to a named website and bought some kind of product or service – this recent trend is known as ransom-ware.

You need good all-round protection to avoid being infected and using intrusion detection software (IDS) and intrusion prevention (IPS) will help you to do that. It is probably advisable to have a security systems reseller come in and perform a security audit on your systems if you have not already looked in detail at your protection.