How I compute – Part 1: Exorcise the demons in your PC

by Paul Goodchild on October 25, 2010

If the term ‘security’ is new to you, I’d wager you have never been online before and this is, randomly, the first article you’ve ever read.  You don’t have to go very far to meet some reference to the concept, and for very good reason.  Whether you’re aware of it or not, you are being assailed by the threat of a personal security breach just by being online. Am I letting my drama-queen side loose for the afternoon?  No.  If you’re experiencing weird glitches on your PC, then you should follow through this article.  Viruses, Spyware and other nasties is what we’re targeting here, and it’s very easy to do.

In this series of articles I’m going to take a break away from my normal theme to relay to you how I do the “computer” things I do in an attempt to save time and minimize trouble caused by PC glitches.  Prevention in this case, is far better, cheaper, quicker, than the cure.  I touched upon this idea of being more time efficient with my article on Google Reader for tracking RSS feeds.  This particular article will deal with the deadly, and often silent, demons lurking in your computer.

I’m going to attempt to make it really easy for you, so put away your lame excuses and show yourself that you aint afraid of no ghosts!  😉

What is security, and what am I at risk from exactly?

Think of security as filing your tax returns.  You don’t wake up in the morning with an intense desire to get it done, but it’s there, just waiting to be done.  It’s not difficult to do, it’s not really that time consuming, and price you pay for not doing it is far greater than not.

Security is easy.  Trust me.

So why does it need to be done?  Increasingly we are putting our lives on the internet in one form or another. The more we use it, the more we are vulnerable to identity theft and fraud.  Even private information on our computers is vulnerable, believe it or not.  There is an amusing saying that goes something like:

“The only secure computer is one that is buried in concrete and turned off.”

It’s a bit of an exaggeration maybe, but it’s not too far off the mark.  If you’re PC is connected to a network, then you’re at risk from a breach and access to your private data.

Step 1 – secure your computer

If everything you do is done on your PC, then that is the first place to start.  We will begin by attempting to remove all nasty programs that may already be on your computer.

a) Clean up using ‘Housecall’

Restart your computer.  This isn’t essential, but it cleans up your computer a little bit to make it run a little faster.

Once you’re up and running again, open up the “internet” (Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox, or equivalent) and copy and paste the following address:

Depending on the design of the page there will be a link to download a program called: ‘Housecall’.  At the time of writing it is on the upper-right corner, and the available version is 7.1.  Currently there are two links offered – 32-bit and 64-bit.  If you know which one you are, click the required link.  If you don’t know, then you’re probably 32-bit.  Choose the other one if you download one and it doesn’t work.

Depending on your setup when you click to download you’ll be asked to either ‘Run’ it or ‘Save’ it.  Pick ‘Save’ and remember where you put it – your ‘Desktop’ is probably easiest since you will run this more than once.

Once finished downloading, run it (double-click).  It will open up a progress window and begin downloading the updates it requires.  Allow that to finish for a couple of minutes and you’ll then be asked to accept the license agreement.  Assuming you do accept, the next step is easy – just click the big blue ‘Scan Now’ button.

Go make a cuppa tea, have a smoke, or do whatever it is you do to kill time.  Depending on your computer speed, how much stuff is currently running, this shouldn’t take much longer than 5~10 minutes average.  But allow it finish.

If there were any nasties discovered on the scan, they will present a list of them for you.  Going with their recommendations is a good idea, though personally I change the ones they suggest as “Ignore” to “Fix”.  They may just be dodgy Cookies, but I don’t want anything dodgy near my computer.

Now, restart your PC.  I would recommend running the Housecall program all over again – you don’t need to go to the website and download it, but just run it from the ‘Desktop’, or wherever it was you downloaded.

Note: You did not install any new software on your computer here, just downloaded a very good cleaner.  You can delete it any time you like, though I recommend keeping it on-hand and running it whenever the mood takes you.

b) Protect with anti-virus

Now that you have your computer in a reliable state, you need to help ensure in the future that nasty programs don’t get on there again.

You’ve heard this talked about a million times I’m sure, but you need it.

To check if you have anti-virus on your computer, Windows XP users please use the first part of this page.  Windows 7 users, should look in ‘Control Panel’ -> ‘System and Security’ -> ‘Action Center’ and read down the Security section to confirm that there is an anti-virus program operating normally.

If there is none, then you need to get one.

I have never paid for anti-virus software in my life, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad idea to do so.  I have consistently used, and had good results with, AVG Free antivirus, and Avira Antivir Personal edition (free).  Alternatively, you could use the free edition from Avast!  All these products are provided for personal, non-commercial use, so consider this in your environment.  Right now I recommend Avira or Avast, and wouldn’t go for AVG.  I avoid Norton/Symantec, Kaspersky, and McAfee from past experience, unless you feel more comfortable paying for these services.

If you discovered earlier you don’t have an anti-virus installed, pick one of the programs linked to above, download the installer file and run it.  Probably a good idea to restart your machine afterwards.

If you already have a paid-for anti-virus solution, you can either keep with it, or remove it and install one of the free packages mentioned above.  I would recommend not renewing your license when the time comes, removing the program you have, and then installing one of the free options.

Also, if in the first step a) when we cleaned the computer using Housecleaner it detected bad software on your computer and you learned you already had an antivirus installed, then you need to change the program you use (whether you paid for it or not).  Remove it and download one of the free programs.


This article is already over 1200 words long and I may have lost some of you already, so I think this is a good place to stop.  By following through to the end here you have done two things – cleaned your PC of some nasty pieces of software and followed up with installing protection so that you wont get them again in the future.

There is much more to say about Security, but I’ll leave it there for now and cover a few other basic security issues in future articles.

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