Antivirus software is the second most important part of computer security. If you watch the news a lot, you've probably heard a lot about computer viruses and the damage they can do. Viruses can get into your computer many different ways. It used to be that you only had to worry about getting viruses from a floppy disk that had been used in an infected computer. Now, with the great advances in computer technology and the internet, you can get them in your e-mail, from malicious web sites, from downloads (all the downloads on this site are virus free), and by other means. These viruses get into your computer. They can delete your files, run programs to take over your computer, spread themselves through e-mail to your friends and loved ones, and use your computer to attack others. Lately many of the viruses have just been created to spread through the internet causing too much traffic and clog the net. You don't want any of these things happening on your computer.
It's not too difficult to protect your self from these problems. It just takes the right software and frequent updates to that software. The best anti-virus programs will run on your computer in the background, monitoring every program you run and every file you open. It looks to see if there is a virus lurking in files or e-mails. This used to slow computers down noticeably. These days, computers are so fast that the effect of the constant scanning is un-noticeable.
There are many anti-virus programs out there. You may find some free ones. I use the free program AVG . It is a very good free AntiVirus with out all the bloated extras that can slow down your computer. Once you install the anti-virus software, run a scan of your entire hard drive. Then, make sure you update the software often. How often? Well I check several times a week. You should try to do it at least once a week. Certainly you must do it any time a virus makes the news. Hopefully it won't be too late if you've waited that long to update. I do not recommend Norton Anti Virus from Symantec or McAfee Anti-virus. The times I've tried McAfee in the past, I found it caused problems with the computer like lock ups and system failures. I've never had such a problem with Norton Anti-Virus but it is the most popular antivirus thus making it the most popular target for viruses and malware. Recently a friends computer had several viruses that had disabled Norton Anti-virus and blocked all websites for downloading a new antivirus program. That was a real challenge to take care of.
Spyware can be similar to a virus. It can be malicious too. Basically it is software that collects information about you from your computer and sends it out to someone or some business on the internet. It can also open your computer and download more spyware. Rather than destroying data like a computer virus, spyware usually is used to collect data to sell to companies for things like advertising. No one program can protect you from all of the different spywares. It is strongly recommended to run several of them. I recommend three free antivirus programs: MicroSoft AntiSpyware, Spy-bot Search and Destroy, and Lavasoft Ad-Aware. You should scan your computer regularly for spyware.
Another free program that protects you from SpyWare is SpyWare Blaster. It protects you from SpyWare that gets into your computer from the internet. When you install the program (it doesn't have to be runnig all the time to work), it creates a list of known bad websites for your browser. These sites then are restricted from putting the spyware on your computer. Keep this up to date as well. I have a link to the program on the downloads page.
(Added 20 Apr 2006) There is a great tool available to check programs for spyware prior to installing them. You can go to Spywareguide.com and run a search on the program. This is also a good site to learn about spyware your security software has found but it unable to remove. Spywareguide.com tells you which programs can remove it, more info than you ever wanted on the spyware, manual removal instructions, and what the spyware is actually doing to your computer.