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5 Critical Steps to Protecting Your Computer on the Internet
by: John Lenaghan
Spyware, viruses and worms... oh my!

If you are connected to the internet, you need to make sure you get your computer 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

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.

4. Install Anti-Spyware Software

Spyware - and other things known as adware and malware - is becoming as big a problem as viruses. Spyware programs can cause a lot of problems with your computer, not to mention they can track your personal information and you never know where it's being sent.

Some new computers might includes antispyware software, but most of them don't yet. There are quite a few anti-spyware programs available, some free and some not. The one I recommend is from Microsoft and is one of the free ones.

One of the reasons I like it is because it always runs in the background and will automatically catch a lot of spyware before it gets on your computer.

Many of the other programs don't catch it until you run a scan. Not only does this allow things to get on your computer, it also means you have to actually remember to run a scan.

You can download the free Microsoft Antispyware from

5. Set up a Free Email Account

This last item is not as critical as the first four, but I would highly recommend you set up an email account with one of the free services like Hotmail or Gmail.

Once you're on the internet, you'll find a lot of useful information that you want that requires you to provide an email address. In some cases, these people will end up sending you a bunch of spam.

If you use a free email account to sign up for anything that you don't know for sure you can trust, it's not going to fill your main email with a bunch of junk.

This goes for anything really, not just online information. If you're entering a contest or signing up for anything offline and you don't know where your information could end up being used, I would suggest using your free email address.

If worse comes to worse, and your free email address gets inundated with spam, you can always just set up a new one and let the old one expire.

Some of the better free email services are, and

If you've had your computer for a while and never done any of these things, you should still take these steps to get it set up properly. It will definitely save you a lot of time - and possibly money - as you use your system.

About the author:
John Lenaghan offers easy-to-understand advice at the Computer Help Squad website. Find out more about these 5 steps - sign up for our newsletter and receive your free 5-part guide at

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