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Tips & tricks to keep your PC safe

No two ways about it: If you're connected to the internet, your PC is at risk. You might not even know it, but hackers probably have access to the data on your computer if you've been lax with its security. And that's just for starters. They could be reading your emails when you do, viewing your bank passwords when you type them out, and even mount hack attacks oninternet servers through your machine — while you remain blissfully clueless.

Thankfully, you don't have to spend "protection money" to ensure that your computer is safe. Free software will do a fine job of keeping your machine safe from the evils of Cyberia.

Get an antivirus: When it comes to antivirus programs, the impression is that paid versions are always better. Not true. Paid anti-viruses have more features —- like sandboxing (to isolate the web browser) or anti-spam (to filter emails) -— but the detection engine for virus scanning and real-time protection is more or less similar across guardian software.

Avira antivirus: Avira is said to have one of the best virus detection engines among all anti-virus programs, and that alone makes it worthy. It is also quite easy to use and does not slow down the system as much as other similar offerings. However, be careful while installing it. Go in for a custom install, and uncheck the box that installs the optional toolbar for browsers.

Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE): Over the last couple of years, MSE has bloomed into a solid antivirus with an excellent detection rate. The virus scan is a little slow, but the fact that it is produced by the same company that makes Windows means it is very well integrated into the system. If you are looking for an antivirus that is easy to use and does its job without pestering you, give MSE a try. The only thing it requires from a user is a valid license for Windows.

And a firewall Software firewall will not stop a skilled hacker, but it still plays an important role in securing your PC. A firewall gives you the power to decide which programs or services on your computer can access the internet, and in what way. To that effect, the free version of ZoneAlarm gets our nod as the firewall of choice.

The rules in ZoneAlarm are easy to set and the applications accessing the Internet can be monitored and controlled with just a few clicks. Power users who are looking for advanced tools could try Komodo or Outpost. But for mainstream users, ZoneAlarm gets the job done easily and efficiently.

Now, vaccinate your pen drives Pen drives, often used on different computers, are the primary source of virus infections on home PCs. But of course, you can't stop using a pen drive for that reason. The solution is a digital vaccine.

Panda offers a USB vaccine that disables Autorun — a feature of Windows that is exploited by cyber scammers — and stops viruses. The tool is simple to use: Download it, plug in a pen drive and then select USB Drive Vaccination. This will make the pen drive immune to viruses unless you format it again. At the same time, clicking on 'Vaccinate the computer' will disable Autorun on the machine and make it more resistant to viruses that use USB drives to spread.

Safe practices for PC safety: Don't be click-happy. Download files or click on links shared only by people or websites you know and trust. Most importantly, use common sense while browsing the web. Run an anti-virus scan every day, and before opening archived (winZip or WinRAR) files. Update your antivirus or Windows without delay.

Finally, take care of pesky spies: Even the best antivirus programmes are sometimes unable to detect spyware — tiny programs that get installed on your PC without your permission to collect information about you, and serve you annoying pop-up ads.

To protect yourself from such 'spies' , you might want to consider Malwarebytes Anti-Malware . The free version of this utility lacks real-time protection, but with an antivirus active on your machine, it is not something that should bother you too much. Just scan your computer with Malwarebytes every month or so and you'll be fine.

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