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by Bob Brooke

Even if your PC runs an anti-virus program, the risk of a data-destroying infection is real. New viruses can claim casualties before anti-virus vendors can identify them. Your best line of defense is to assume your PC will become infected--and take steps to prevent it.

Update the latest virus program data files that identify specific viruses. Fortunately, most programs now remind you when signature files need to be updated, and will download the update for you from the company's Web site at the click of a button. The best, including Norton AntiVirus, PC-cillin, McAfee VirusScan, AVG and AVAST Anti-virus programs perform this job admirably. You can download and use the last two for free from

Keep a boot disk handy. A serious infestation may prevent your PC from starting up. That's when you reach for the boot disk–a floppy from which you can run the anti-virus program's scanner if your PC becomes inoperable. You should boot from a clean disk before removing a virus. You can also boot from an anti-virus program CD, which will let you also run a scan before Windows loads. If you suspect a virus because your PC is behaving irrationally, this is the best way to go.

Use more than one anti-virus utility. No single anti-virus package can detect and remove every virus, so using multiple programs lessens the chance of a virus getting through. Buy a good one and download a free one from the Internet. A second opinion never hurts.

Unfortunately, the days of truly free software are on the wane. Anti-virus software makers like Panda Software of Spain let you scan your computer online from their Web sites. However, the scan only displays the results. To fix any virus, trojan, or worm, you’ll have to pay.

Likewise, companies like Norton know that you’re at their mercy, so they’ve increased the price of their software accordingly, sometime to astronomical levels. Another trick they’re pulling is allowing you to only use the software on one PC or else you have to buy multiple PC versions, which cost considerably more. Plus, you’ll have to pay a renewal fee once a year, which can be more than the cost of a new program. Sure, they have to endure costs to develop new virus definitions to fight viruses, but like pharmaceutical companies, they know that losing the information on your PC is tantamount to losing your life. And you’ll do anything to prevent that.

Clean up after a virus invasion. Once you rid your PC of its marauder, don't stop there. Read up on what the virus does to files, then take steps to eliminate unpleasant surprises down the road. Just as you’ve learned to drive defensively to avoid automobile accidents, so should you learn to operate your computer defensively to keep your information intact.

And, finally, avoid E-mail attachments from strangers. The new worm viruses have found a way to infect E-mail. Lastly, never download files from the Internet without some sort of protective program to check them first.

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