Remember safety first when it comes to computer viruses

FI-Log-On-With-Larry-SchneiderDear Larry,

In the past I have admittedly not been very discriminating when it came to the websites I visited. As a result, I would frequently be prompted with little windows warning of one infection or another and, in my stupidity, I’d load my computer with the worst viruses imaginable. I really want to turn over a new leaf this year. What should be my battle plan for keeping my ship shipshape? —C.D.


Dear C.D.,

Good for you. Sadly, a large part of my business consists of cleaning up these messes after the fact. That sort of revenue doesn’t particularly float my boat so nothing would make me happier if every computer user became a smarter one.

To do so, you need to learn how to tell the difference between a safe message/update on your computer screen and a bogus one.

Let’s begin with a standard list of what updates are good for your computer. Obviously you’re running Windows, and Windows is made by Microsoft. Windows and other Microsoft update notifications usually appear near the system tray in the bottom right corner of the screen.

What else? Expect to see update messages from companies like Adobe (Acrobat Reader), Sun (Java), Apple (iTunes), Google (Picasa, Google Earth), all of which play a role in keeping your computer working the way it should. Your antivirus/security software will also rear its head, be it AVG, Norton, Avast, or McAfee. Furthermore, anticipate upgrade messages from other software publishers you work with (Quicken? QuickBooks? TurboTax? etc.)

If an update makes an appearance that you’re unsure of, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you’re on the Internet, close the Internet. Don’t click any OK or Cancel buttons. If in serious doubt, save your work, push the power button on your computer, and let it shut down. Then boot back up and resume working.

I wish software updates were as simple as that but they’ve grown more complicated in recent years. Narrowing margins in the computer business have forced the hands of many software publishers (including all of the above) to use the occasion of a software update to try and foist other software on their unsuspecting users — their own or one of their partners.

Over time all this additional “junkware” will bog down your computer. You can protect yourself by reading update windows carefully and keeping an eye out for a message such as “Also install so and so” that will appear next to a pre-checked checkbox. Simply uncheck the box and proceed with the update normally.

What can you come to expect? Look for Apple trying to push Safari and iCloud, Adobe’s push du jour might be Microsoft Bing or McAfee/Norton virus scans, Java might be hustling or Yahoo Toolbar, and Google might be trying to throw in a copy of Google Chrome.

The bottom line is this: Always be on guard for the take, the scam artist, and the grifter.

This is Larry Schneider, logging off.


Larry Schneider is the owner of Accent on Computers, a Greenwich-based consulting firm — now in its 16th year of business — catering to individuals, businesses and professional offices. PC and Mac services include computer setup, training, troubleshooting, virus resolution, networking, Internet, database, and programming. Call 203-625-7575, visit or send email to [email protected]

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