The threat of virus infection is never far away in the modern world, especially when you venture online.
This is true no matter what computing device you use, be it a Windows PC, Apple Mac computer, or even a tablet or smartphone.
Obviously the risks vary – as do the methods of protection – but everyone should be aware of what needs to be done to stay protected.
Spending a few minutes now to check your defences could save endless distress later on.
Regardless of whether you are using a PC or Mac, we’ll explain everything you need to know in just five quick steps.
Step 1: Install anti-virus software
If you use a Windows PC then anti-virus software isn’t optional – you must install a good security application.
Surprisingly, you don’t need to spend any money to erect reliable electronic defences.
Microsoft Security Essentials is a free program that provides everything needed for day-to-day protection. Download it right now from Microsoft.
Once installed, click the Update button within the Update tab. When the updates have finished downloading, click the ‘Scan now’ button on the Home tab.
When the green tick appears, your Windows PC is protected.
Step 2: Check the Windows Firewall
All popular versions of Windows include a firewall – called Windows Firewall – that will stop hackers from gaining access to your PC.
Windows Firewall is enabled by default but to reassure yourself, do check.
Click Start followed by Control Panel (in Windows 8, from the Start screen type ‘control panel’ then click Control Panel), then click System and Security followed by Windows Firewall.
If any part of the Windows Firewall screen is marked with a red cross, click to investigate further. If it’s all green ticks, your PC is protected. For even stronger firewall protection, see Step 4.
Step 3: Don’t think that Apple Macs are immune
It is a myth that Apple Mac computers are impervious to virus infection.
While it is true that underlying technology differences mean that they’re inherently more secure than Windows PCs, you should still install a good anti-virus program on your Mac.
Again, you don’t need to pay for reliable security software – Avast Free Antivirus for Mac is a popular no-cost option, which you can download from Avast.
Install the program and, once the green tick and ‘Secured’ message appears, your Mac is protected from all types of malware.
Step 4: Enable the router’s firewall
All modern routers have built-in firewalls that provide protection for all connected. They should be enabled automatically (BT Home Hubs are), but it's worth checking that yours is enabled.
Methods for accessing routers vary and can be quite technical so you’ll need to check the manual. However, typically the job involves launching a web browser, typing 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1 into the address bar and pressing Enter.
You’ll then need to log in (the username will almost certainly be ‘admin’ and the default password may be ‘password’, but check the manual).
When the router’s administration page appears in the web browser, look for a Firewall section. Click this and then check that protection is enabled.
Step 5: Be careful on the web
These steps should ensure that you have the very best protection against the latest viruses – but a final strong defence is common sense.
Virus writers exploit all sorts of tricks to con computer users into infecting their own devices, including downloading virus-laden software and creating dodgy websites that will infect unprotected computers as soon as they visit – so-called ‘drive by’ infections.
Protect against new and emerging threats by keeping your computer and all its applications up to date.
Windows users should regularly run the Windows Update tool. In XP, Vista and 7, you’ll find this within All Programs on the Start menu; in Windows 8, open the Charms bar (hold down the Windows key and tap X) then click Settings followed ‘Change PC settings’ and then Windows Update. If updates are available, click the ‘Install updates’ button.
Mac users should click the Apple icon and select Software Update.