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In this issue of my advice & tips, I am listing some of my favorite Internet protection tools...which are FREE for personal, home use. I have been using these tools myself for almost five years, with exceptional results. Many of the computers I have repaired over the years have relied on the more expensive, name-brand products for their Internet security. After fixing the systems repeatedly, I was finally able to convince them that it would save them in repair bills if they would simply try the products I was recommending. Of course, it has affected the number of repair calls I receive, but they are happy. :) Anyway, unlike what the big marketing departments would like us to think, cost does not always relate to quality.

That said, let me make a disclaimer here. Not everything that is free is good. I have also repaired a number of computers that downloaded every free screensaver, "smiley face" and spam removal tool that popped up on the screen or email. Typically, I strongly discourage the use of 95% of the free downloads available. The majority of them bring in spyware by the ton, which eventually leads to computer slowdowns, crashes, and viruses through the back door. But, there are a few companies that make excellent products...and bonus for this frugal shopper...they are free! So, back to Internet protection...

I'm sure you've heard it 100 times...do not surf the Internet unprotected. Below I've listed the protection needed for Internet use and my recommendations for free tools available for your personal, home use. These companies typically have a business/organization version that you can purchase, but there are only minor differences in the features. Plus, even if you use the paid version, it is cheaper, works better, and does not HOG system resources like some of the name-brand products. Enough said. And now for the free tools...

  1. Virus Protection: Grisoft's AVG - Features automatic updates, scan scheduling and Outlook email scanning. I've tried them all, and this is the only one I've used that works...all the time...and doesn't slow or crash my system.
  2. Spam Guard: Mailwasher - Wash the email before it even gets to your mailbox! My favorite feature is the "bouncing" option that bounces the email back to the spammer to make it appear the my email address is no longer valid. Easy to use.
  3. Spyware Removal Tool: AdAwareSE - No matter how careful you are on the Internet, you are going to get bits of spyware saved in your computer. Update and run this program regularly to keep your system from being hijacked. Identifies more spyware than any other tool I have used.
  4. Pop-Up Blocker: Pop-Up Stopper - I know IE, Yahoo, and Hotmail toolbars all have pop-up blockers, however, this one is better. It is quick to install and stops EVERY pop-up...even the links I want to access. So, by simply holding down the shift key while clicking a link, I can keep things secure while going where I need to go. (Above link goes to CNet's Download.com)
  5. Firewall: Zone Alarm - Stops intruders from accessing your computer by making it invisible to hackers. Simple configuration.

Using these security tools together will keep your system running smoothly and reliably. And before I close, I have one last bit of advice...

Though the above tools will catch most infected emails, I still find it a good policy to NEVER open email attachments. The viruses are getting sneakier, and without her knowledge, your dear Aunt Sue might have inadvertantly sent a virus or worm hidden in the cute little dancing bunnies. I know the attachments could be safe, and are frequently charming or funny, but I like to lean on the side of caution and avoid any possible system crashes. A lot of my clients fail to heed this advice, but I guess I reap the benefits with yet another repair call.

Until next issue...Best wishes in your endevours!


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