I’ve talked about not using an antivirus in an opinion article last week and quite honestly, had an overwhelming response to it – some of you agreeing that an antivirus may not be necessary while many others feeling strongly about using an antivirus to keep the PC completely secure.

  

In this feature, we look at some of the ways that you can reduce the chances of your PC being infected by viruses or any other kinds of malicious code by using just a couple of handy utilities and by following a few rules of your own.

Disabling Windows File Sharing
A lot of the malware comes from other infected PCs on the network. Most users end up enabling Windows file sharing when they run a clean installation, which leaves the systems prone to worms and viruses. One of the easiest ways to stop this from happening is to turn off the file sharing feature completely especially if you have no other PCs at your home. To do this, browse to the Network Connections window through the Control Panel. Right click on the network adapter and click on Properties. Uncheck Windows file sharing checkbox. If you need to be able to share files on a network, make sure you use complicated passwords for network shares and disable all open network shares. Also, allow write access only if it’s absolutely required.

Monitoring network connections
Gone are the days where worms and viruses would corrupt files or slow down the system. Most of the malware today are designed to spam or remotely attack other PCs and sites. So, if your PC is infected by a worm, there’s a good chance that it might be sending out packets through your internet connection.

Network activity monitoring using Windows 7's Resource Monitor

Network activity monitoring using Windows 7's Resource Monitor

One of the easy ways to know for sure is to use a network bandwidth monitor. Windows 7 for example, already comes with a built-in network monitor called Resource Monitor. Start it and access the Network panel to see all the connections being made by applications and the amount of bandwidth being used.

Using a secure browser
If you’ve been using an old version of Internet Explorer or any other unsecured browser, it’s high time you moved to Firefox, Chrome or Opera. Later versions of Internet Explorer are more secure, so it’s recommended you upgrade to the latest possible version if you prefer using IE.

Free malware removal tools

Symantec's free Power Eraser malware removal utility

Symantec's free Power Eraser malware removal utility

It’s a handy to non-intrusive malware removal tools around at all times. Some of these free tools available are Spybot , Hijackthis and Symantec’s Power Eraser tool which is available for free from their respective sites. There are many other similar tools offered by antivirus manufacturers. These are handy to remove commonly found viruses and worms.
Web-based Scanners
One of the easiest ways to stay secure is to use an antivirus, but if you want to keep away from them and not install anything on your PC, there are free alternatives. Like free malware removal tools, there are also online antivirus scanners that can scan your PC using either a Java application or an ActiveX applet.

Trend Micro's free online virus scanner

Trend Micro's free online virus scanner

Some of them require a installation after which the software downloads updates from the web and scans your PC. Some of the free ones are from ESET and Trend Micro . Even though they might not always remove the virus, at least you can have peace of mind knowing that your system is malware-free.

Using Unlocker
Much of the malware today reside as files in some folder on the system. The malicious script or executable runs continuously which means it’s not possible to delete the file from the system while it’s active. A tool called Unlocker allows users to unlock these files. Unlocker terminates the application and also gives users the option to rename, move or delete the file. Once you’ve detected the location of a worm or virus, it’s possible to delete scripts and executables using it.

Disabling Autorun
The Autorun feature in Windows is what throws up a window when you insert a DVD or a flash drive into your system. It allows users to automatically play an audio CD or movie DVD using the default media player. In the case of flash drives, the Autorun.inf file is executed. Almost every single worm or virus that infects flash drives hides itself in one of the folders in the drive and it also uses the Autorun.inf to trigger the binary or script, when the Autorun function is used on a PC.

Manually checking Flash drives
It’s possible to scan a flash drive for worms quickly using just a few DOS commands. Start a command prompt by typing cmd in the Start > Run window or by pressing Winkey + R. Move control to the root of the flash drive. For example, if your flash drive shows up as H Drive, then type H:. Here, type DIR/ah to show all the hidden file.

No AUTORUN.INF on this flash drive

No AUTORUN.INF on this flash drive

If you find a hidden AUTORUN.INF file, it’s very likely that the flash drive has been infected. The command TYPE AUTORUN.INF will display the contents and the path of the virus executable or script. To delete a hidden file, say AUTORUN.INF for example, type ATTRIB –r –s –h AUTORUN.INF first, then type DEL AUTORUN.INF. Use the same steps to delete the virus files as well.

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