Disaster-proof your small-business PC
Load up on software protection
Keeping up with the various software packages that shield your PC from harm can seem like a full-time job to the uninitiated. But it's time well spent; even one stray bit of malware can compromise your data, endanger your customers, or fry your hardware.
There's nothing worse than being forced to do a clean reinstall of your operating system, thereby losing all your data--especially when a bit of preventive maintenance can obviate most potential problems.
A good antivirus program can shield you from viruses that try to infiltrate via Web sites, e-mail, or downloaded files. The catch, however, is that new viruses pop up every day. You need to keep your antivirus software up-to-date; vendors update their software almost daily. Once you buy a program, be prepared to renew your subscription on an annual basis (usually for around the retail price of the app) to keep those new virus definitions coming. McAfee VirusScan
and Symantec's Norton AntiVirus
are the two biggest players in the space, although Trend Micro PC-cillin
is slightly cheaper and gets better reviews. Some low-cost or free antivirus apps
might also fit your needs, especially if you have multiple PCs to protect.
Microsoft is just getting into the game with its OneCare Live
service. It's an all-in-one solution, providing antivirus protection plus an improved firewall and antispyware protection. It'll even back up data you select at regular intervals. It's currently available as a free beta
, and should eventually cost $49 a year for a three-machine license.
Another valuable resource is CNET's very own Security Center, where you can check in with the daily Virus Threat Watch
Since your PC is probably always on, always connected to the Internet, and always full of sensitive data, a firewall that keeps information safely tucked away inside the computer is a must. Windows XP includes a basic firewall, and the Windows OneCare Live service offers an upgraded one, but for serious security, many people choose to rely on a third-party app such as ZoneAlarm
, which is a CNET Editors' Choice product.
When installing antivirus and firewall apps from different vendors, be aware that some programs don't play well with others. McAfee and Symantec are notorious for this, and when we recently installed the beta of Windows OneCare Live, we were forced to remove our other antivirus software first.
While not as outright lethal as viruses can be, spyware is arguably a more insidious problem. Tracking cookies and stealth registry entries are as common as spam. Fortunately, minimizing the problem is fairly easy, thanks to several freeware apps on the market. Lavasoft Ad-aware
and Spybot Search and Destroy
are the most common programs, and both have basic versions available free. Microsoft also offers a free beta version of its antispyware tool, called Windows Defender
. Choosing which one to run is easy. The conventional wisdom says run all three, as each program will catch files the others might miss.