Over the past month, there have been a real rash of virus infections. The recent peak of activity is due to all the online shopping over the holidays; I've been up to my neck in virus removals at work due to this. Those who write viruses are crafty little devils, and they're not the maladjusted pimply-faced nerds devising malicious pranks while drinking Diet Coke and eating gummy bears that you commonly think of. These people are writing viruses to either steal your information for identity theft, or defraud you into giving up your credit card information willingly (like the fake anti-viruses out there). These guys are also smart enough to realize that you will want to remove the virus they worked so hard to infect you with, and they know how to keep you from doing so. I say this because more people need to be aware of what they're dealing with so they can prepare for it. Viruses aren't just a bummer like they were 10 years ago - they are a real security threat, and they are difficult (in some cases impossible) to remove properly once you are infected. The first thing a virus does is look to see if you have an anti-virus installed. If so, there are a few ways they circumvent this. Some will either attempt to rewrite the definition file of the anti-virus or rename itself in an effort to conceal itself. The more clever ones are rootkits; they embed themselves in the file system and run at elevated permissions so that they are invisible to the OS. Once they've entered the system, they then cripple your anti-virus as well as prevent you from installing one. Many will also prevent you from bringing up Task Manager (which may allow you to see what they're up to). After they've successfully locked you out of installing a removal tool, they do their business. Anti-viruses are not 100% (the only true guarantee is what I call "internet abstinence") and they are not created equal. The trial version that came with your computer is junk; so are the free ones that come from your ISP or various websites. They are mostly stripped down versions of the paid programs, offer limited functionality, and many only attempt to scan and remove them after the fact (which in almost all cases, is too late as you can never be certain the virus is completely gone). If you have a virus already, there are few options. You can pay a technician to remove it for you (which may not be successful), or you can back up your files and perform a system recovery (reformatting and reinstalling everything, which is a pain but guarantees you are rid of the bug). I would go with the second option as it is cheaper and will give you piece of mind. After removing the virus, immediately install a REAL anti-virus program. I strongly recommend an all-in-one solution such as Norton 360. Look for one that proactively monitors the internet connection to prevent viruses before they gain control, prevents spyware and adware and has a firewall, and look for features such as automated back-ups and maintenance. Be sure to remove any and all anti-viruses from the computer before installing a new one, as they do not play nicely with each other. An anti-virus does its job by taking control of critical system files; if you install another, they will fight for control of the machine. Not only will this make your computer dreadfully slow, but it also creates a security issue (as the best time to sneak past two guards is to wait until they're bickering with each other). Also, altering your internet habits is important to preventing attacks. While I won't get into the legal ramifications of file-sharing software, I can tell you that it is a vulnerability (after all, the best way to distribute a virus is by sharing it with the world over P2P). When you're on MySpace or Facebook, think of why you would want to install smiley software on your computer just to take a quiz - doesn't make sense when you think about it, does it? If (after careful consideration of how safe a program is) you still decide to install it, don't just click "Next" - pay attention to the license agreement, and read everything step by step. Look out if it says it's sending your information to them, or installing another piece of software like a toolbar - these are warning signs. More advanced security schemes involve creating user accounts. Go into "User Accounts" in the Control Panel, and create individual accounts for each user (including yourself), as well as a master account. Set the master account as administrator and the rest (including yourself) as a limited user. Give each user a strong password, especially the administrator. Only use the administrator account to perform maintenance (such as installing software or resetting a password) and the rest for everyday use. Don't worry - you will still be able to use the computer normally, but this step will prevent unauthorized installations which can thwart many viruses and malware. Good luck, and be careful. A little paranoia can go a long way when it comes to computers.