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Published on 03.07.06 by Brent Trahan

Internet & E-mail Usage Advice

Honest advice about using the internet and e-mail from a computer pro.

The internet is a very dangerous place. Most people surf the internet and use e-mail without knowing a few basic things that get them in trouble later on. This guide gives you advice that will make your experience with the internet and e-mail much better and safer.

Antivirus Software

I’ve noticed the number one thing that causes people’s computers to give them problems are viruses and spyware. I’ve also noticed in most cases those people either don’t have antivirus software, they have antivirus software but it’s out of date, or they have antivirus software but they turned it off.

Antivirus software is a must these days. It doesn’t make sense to me that a person can buy a $1,300 computer and not buy a $50 antivirus software package. If you don’t pay that $50 or so a year for virus protection chances are you’re going to pay that and much more to someone else to fix your computer because you didn’t have antivirus software.

Not all antivirus software is the same. There are a few free antivirus software packages out there. I don’t recommend them. Don’t get me wrong, they are OK, but they are not good enough for me. When it comes to antivirus software you need more than OK. For the most part all antivirus software is around $50 per year to use. Most antivirus packages have the same features. Not all antivirus software will do a good job at finding viruses. For a complete list of ICSA certified antivirus software click here. Some software packages do a good job at finding viruses but they don’t do such a good job at removing them.

My favorite antivirus software is Trend Micro’s PC-Cillin. Most people have never heard of Trend Micro or PC-Cillin. Trend Micro is the top corporate antivirus solution. Big companies like Microsoft, Xerox, and many more use Trend Micro’s corporate antivirus software. Most good computer techs will tell you that Trend Micro is by far the best antivirus solution out there. Trend Micro makes a home version of their antivirus software called PC-Cillin. You can find PC-Cillin stores that sell Norton and McAfee but you’ll have to look for it. The reason PC-Cillin is not as popular for home PCs is Trend Micro is just starting to push PC-Cillin.

My next pick for antivirus software is Norton, but why would you buy the second best if it cost you the same or cheaper in some cases to buy the best (PC-Cillin). That’s a no-brainer for me.

Once you have antivirus software you need to keep it updated. Antivirus software needs to be updated periodically (every day or so) so it knows what to look for when scanning your computer. Even the best antivirus software is no good if it doesn’t know what to look for when it scans your computer. Make sure your antivirus software is set to update itself as often as possible. If you are not fortunate enough to have a broadband internet connection yet you need to get online and manually update it every couple of days.

Make sure your antivirus software is scanning your computer and removing any viruses it finds. You need to pay attention to things like the time your antivirus software scans your computer. Many people will set their antivirus software to scan at midnight but they turn their computer off at 10pm. You need to make sure your computer is on when it’s time to scan for viruses.

You also need to check to make sure your antivirus software is successfully removing viruses it finds. Many times you’ll need to do a few things to help the antivirus software get rid of a virus or two. Your antivirus software will help you with that.

The bottom line with antivirus software is you need it. Antivirus software is not the place to cut corners with a PC. Once you have a great quality antivirus software package keep it up to date and make sure it is scanning your computer and removing any viruses it finds.

Antispyware Software

In the past few years spyware has become as much as or more than a nuisance than viruses. Spyware is much easier to catch than a virus in most cases. You can get spyware simply by viewing a website. I’ve noticed spyware causes the most trouble in people’s computers these days.

As with antivirus software, not all antispyware software is created equal. In most cases antispyware software advertised online is not antispyware software at all. It’s simply a virus or spyware in itself that calls itself antispyware software so you download and install it. Be VERY careful when choosing antispyware software. Click here to get a list of all the known suspected antispyware fake programs. Microsoft has a list of antispyware software packages it recommends. I would only stick with those. If you don’t you could be setting yourself up for a disaster.

Microsoft created Windows Defender. Windows Defender is a free antispyware software package. I suggest using this as your antispyware package.

As with antivirus software you need to keep your antispyware software up to date. If your antispyware is not up to date it won’t do you any good.


Spyware refers to a broad category of malicious software designed to intercept or take partial control of a computer’s operation without the informed consent of that machine’s owner or legitimate user.

Spyware is the nastiest threat I’ve seen in recent years. The worst thing about spyware is it’s spreading like an uncontrolled wildfire in the middle of a 10 year drought and nobody sees it coming or even cares much about it until it’s too late.

Personally I would rather have most viruses then spyware on my computer. Most viruses only try to harm your PC or other PCs. Spyware tries to steal from you.

When spyware infects your computer it does one or more of a few things. Some spyware simply serves up pop-up ads. Other spyware software will track what you do on the internet so that they can serve up targeted pop-up ads based on what you’ve been doing on your computer. The worst spyware is the kind that watches what you do and steal information from your computer. The information they steal can be passwords, financial data, your identity, and much more.

Spyware is also notorious for slowing down your PC. Most spyware is very poorly written software that does everything it can to do its job at hand. Once you get a lot of spyware on your computer it will slow down to a crawl because all the spyware it taking all of your computers resources to run.

The main way spyware spreads is by deception. You might download a free game or some other desirable “free” software. You have no idea that the free game is also bundled with spyware. Another way spyware gets on your computer is by changing your Internet Explorer settings to a low security level that will let them in. They do this by showing you a pop-up when you visit their site. The pop-up might look like an error or a simple message. When you click on any button on the pop-up it will change your security settings and let itself in. Other spyware will simply go after computers that haven’t been updated by windows update and have security holes.

Spyware has also been known to change system files. By changing the system files they can make your computer unusable if the spyware is removed.

Common software like Kazaa, LimeWire, Bonzi Buddy, Weatherbug, and many more are known to have spyware bundled with them.


A virus is a self-replicating/self-reproducing-automation program that spreads by inserting copies of itself into other executable code or documents. You can think of a computer virus just like a virus you would catch. They act the same way as a virus you catch.

Most viruses spread by e-mail these days. You might receive an e-mail from a friend whose computer is infected by a virus. The e-mail will get you to open the attached file (the virus). If you open it you catch the virus. If you have good antivirus software it won’t let you open the virus in the e-mail.

Most of the time you can tell if the e-mail from your friend is a virus because it will have content that’s out of the ordinary in it.

Believe it or not computers that are infected by “viruses” are declining. Most antivirus software does a great job at stopping most viruses. Spyware and other similar threats are what’s hurting computers these days. Antispyware software is just starting to hit the markets.

Nothing is FREE

Do you really think someone is going to spend a lot of time and money to just give it away for free? HELL NO! In many cases free software comes with a very big hidden cost. If something is free (especially if it’s advertised on pop-up ads) it is probably too good to be true. Do your homework before you download and install something that claims to be free.

Downloading Music

Unless you are paying for the music you download, (I don’t mean paying for Kazaa) you need to stay away from that software. P2P programs like Kazaa, LimeWire, Bear Share, and so on that let you download music, movies, and software for free are a BIG NO NO. You are breaking federal law and installing spyware and possibly viruses at the same time.

When you install P2P software on your computer you are opening a back door that’s wide open and it’s almost impossible to close it once you’ve installed those types of programs.

Windows Updates

Most people don’t pay attention to Windows Updates. Windows updates are updates to the windows operating system that will make it better or fix a major problem that could cause your computer to become unstable or crash.

Windows updates are added to the windows updates site a few times a month. You can set your computer to automatically download and install critical updates when they come up in the control panel under Automatic Updates. You might want to go to the windows updates site and download the other non-critical updates. The non-critical updates are usually upgrades to parts of the operating system.

Spam and E-mail Scams

I see people falling for e-mail scams every day. I wish I could tell you what scams are out there so you can avoid them but there are too many.

All you need to do is use common sense to avoid getting scammed. Don’t fall for free stuff. NOTING IS FREE! Don’t believe everything you read. Companies like eBay, Microsoft, Paypal, and so on will NEVER do business with you through e-mail. If you receive an e-mail saying your account has been disabled for some reason and they need some information from you to re-enable it, don’t respond. They are just trying to get information out of you. If they were disabling your account or something like that they would not send you an e-mail.

Still need help? Ask your computer question now.

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