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Viruses and online back up

November 2006

The majority of your emails recently have been worries about viruses and security generally, so this month I’ll bring you up to date on the latest defences.

There are four main steps to take to ensure you don’t lose sleep over the whole business.

First, get a Firewall, which stops most of the nasties escaping from websites into your computer, and second, make sure all your incoming emails are automatically checked for viruses.

Thirdly, regularly use a couple of programmes that search your computer for stuff which managed to sneak in anyway, and lastly, back up your files so that you can retrieve them if something really does get to you.

The excellent news is that none of it need cost you a penny.

First, the Firewall. If you use Windows XP, you are laughing – it has one built in, so make sure that it is switched on and set to update itself. Full instructions at  and on my website ( )

If you don’t use Windows XP, then I recommend you download Zone Alarm from . It is free and works well.

Now, email checking. Make sure that your ISP is not already doing it for you; all BT packages, for example, include it. If yours doesn’t, then download AVG Anti-Virus from . Once again it’s free, and does the job fine.

However, none of these is infallible, and some evil bits creep in despite them. Usually it is what is known as Spyware, which sits in your machine telling its masters what you are doing, so that they can transmit appropriate adverts to you. Not fatal, but jolly irritating. Or it might be Malware, which damages your system. Very nasty.

The answer is to get Spybot ( ) and Adaware SE Personal ( ). Both are free, so keep them up-dated (also free) and run them every week or two.

Now, backing up your files. I can’t stress enough how important it is that you back up. It means making a copy of all the things on your computer that you don’t want to lose – work, letters , pictures, names and addresses, old emails – and storing it somewhere else so that when your computer is lost, stolen or strayed you can reload it all onto a new machine and carry on.

If you don’t have broadband, the best solution is from time to time to make copies of your files on a CD.

If you do have broad band, then the infinitely preferable, and painless, solution is online backup. That means that every day you transmit all your important files to a computer a long way from home. They encrypt them and keep them safe until you need them.

I have been doing this for years, and it has saved my bacon a number of times, but I have not mentioned it before as it has been rather expensive – £75 pa or so for a fairly modest amount of storage. However, last year there arrived a new kid on the block, called Mozy, based in Utah. They will happily give you two gigabytes of storage space (far more than most people would need) in return only for the right to send you occasional email adverts.

I’ve been using it for a while and it works a treat (but only if you have Windows XP – a Mac version is promised).

First go to Mozy, download the small bit of software and follow the instructions, in particular telling it which of your files to back up. It’s pretty good at guessing for you, but you need to check it’s spotted all of them.

The first time you do a back up it may take quite a while, but thereafter it only transmits new files or files that have changed. It will do this without you knowing, at a time when the computer is quiet, so you are always fully backed up. No effort, no cost.

This service really is too good to miss out on, and I strongly urge you to give it a go. You’ll thank me if that unfinished novel is lost when your computer explodes; and look at this picture if you think that’s far fetched.