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43. Tackling Viruses Cheaply

By Mark Alberstat

I am trying to find out about worm infections, how to avoid them and how to do a system check. I have searched for info on free download programs without success, and wonder if you could tell me if there is a no/low cost way to handle this.

Name withheld by request


Using A computer today without a virus scanner is like walking across a busy street without any regard to oncoming traffic; you might make it across safely a few times, but eventually you will get hit.

If you use your computer daily for various tasks, when a virus hits your machine you will feel it almost as acutely as if you yourself were stuck. Viruses can destroy your data, allow third-party programs to take control of your computer, cripple your system and even send out thousands of e-mails without you knowing it, sometimes resulting in your ISP stopping your service.

Windows-based machines are the most vulnerable to these attacks as most viruses are written to attack these systems.

One of the main reasons people give for not running an anti-virus program is expense. Some of the better-known virus scanners such as Norton or McAfee can run well over $50.

If you are a frugal computer shopper, you can watch for various rebate deals both of these companies often offer and which bring the price down to the $25 to $35 range.

These programs also should be used with an ongoing update service so that your initial outlay is not your last. A non-updated virus scanner is like crossing a busy two-way street but only looking one way.

If you do have a working virus scanner, you should check for updates at least once a week, and always after you have heard about a major virus or worm making the rounds.

If even the prices after rebate seem too high for your ounce of protection, or you don't have money to lay out on more software for your home PC, check out a few of the free downloadable and online scanners.

HouseCall by Trend Micro is a free scanner that works with Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. HouseCall's main page will load a small file on your computer, update its virus definitions and then give you the choice of which drive or drives you want scanned.

It also features an Auto Clean check box for those who don't want the scanning to be too interactive. While scanning your drive a short virus knowledge quiz appears on the screen for you to answer and help pass the time.

Avast! has a free home-edition anti-virus program that also has free updates. This program is good for Windows 9x/Me and NT/2000/XP. It has two modes: simple and advanced. The program you download first is a 90-day trial version but after registering your copy, which is still free, you obtain the activation key via e-mail.

Another free and popular scanner is from Pandasoftware. ActiveScan is an online virus scanner, which only requires a small ActiveX download to run. It is ideal for those who are not computer savy but still want some modicum of protection.

Some related links:

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


The Mousepad Index


Originally published 26 September 2004


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