Protect Your Computer: Basics For You

Keep Windows Updated with the Latest Patches
Since Windows 98, Microsoft has provided access to Windows Update. Windows Update scans your system and updates it with the latest security patches and service packs. These are broken down into Critical and Recommended updates.

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A new version of Windows Update, Microsoft Update, is also available. In addition to Windows, Microsoft Update will also patch a wide variety of Microsoft applications, such as Office and Windows Defender. Best of all, you can schedule these updates to run automatically, so there is really no excuse for not having a patched system. To access Windows Update click on the Start button, All Programs and scroll through the list to find it.
Keep Your Spyware and AntiVirus Programs Updated
No matter how good your spyware and antivirus software is, if it’s not updated or, worse, not running at all, then it won’t do you any good. Most antivirus applications load an icon in the Windows tray, which lets you verify its status at a glance. Always verify that the application is running after starting Windows.

In addition, these applications should be configured to perform definition updates everyday and complete system scans should take place at least once a week. Should you need a new antivirus scanner, I suggest using Avira Antivir. Not only is it free, but it always performs near to, if not at, the top of most comparison tests. To combat malware, I suggest A-Squared and Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware. Both are critically renowned for their ease of use and effectiveness; and they’re free.
Keep Your Applications and Utilities Patched

Believe it or not, all of the applications and utilities on your system are prone to security risks and need to be updated regularly. Programs that you use everyday like Adobe Acrobat Reader, QuickTime, Realplayer, Skype, WinZip and more require both maintenance and security updates from time to time.

Even applications that run in the background like Flash and Java are at risk. Trying to keep track of each of these individually can be a bit of a handful, but a nifty utility called Secunia PSI makes the job much easier. This free utility tracks a massive number of security exploits in applications and will automatically monitor your PC for susceptible apps. When it finds one, it directs you to a site where you can download and install the needed patches. This program is an invaluable resource for keeping your PC secured.
Remove Unused Applications and Other Junk

Your PC has a lot of non-essential data (e.g., crap) stored on it, much of which you might not even be aware of. For instance, Internet Explorer stores copies of the Web pages you visit, images and media for faster viewing later. Plus there are temporary files, your Internet history, cookies, and more scattered throughout your system.

Plus, when your machine was brand new it came pre-loaded with numerous pieces of trial software. This could be games, security suites, even full blown applications like QuickBooks or Microsoft Office. Many people never install these. Others have, but decided not to purchase them at the end of the trial. Yet they remain on the system, wasting space and bloating the Windows Registry. Over time, this can lead to performance problems, causing Windows to become sluggish and unreliable.

One of the easiest ways to combat this is to use CCleaner, a freeware utility for system optimization, privacy, and cleaning. This tool removes unused files from a hard drive and cleans up online history. But more important, it includes an outstanding registry cleaner. It even has an uninstaller to assists you in removing applications from your system.