You don't want your computer to become a zombie, so what do you do to prevent it? The most important thing to remember is that prevention is an ongoing process -- you can't just set everything up and expect to be protected forever. Also, it's important to remember that unless you employ common sense and prudent Internet habits, you're courting disaster.
Antivirus software is an absolute necessity. Whether you purchase a commercial package like McAfee VirusScan or download a free program like AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition, you need to activate it and make sure your version remains current. Some experts say that to be truly effective, an antivirus package would need to update on an hourly basis. That's not practical, but it does help stress the importance of making sure your software is as up to date as possible. For more information, read our article on How Computer Viruses Work.
Install spyware scanners to search for malicious spyware. Spyware includes programs that monitor your Internet habits. Some go even further, logging your keystrokes and recording everything you do on your computer. Get a good anti-spyware program like Ad-Aware from Lavasoft. Like the antivirus software, make sure the program stays up to date. To learn more, read our article on How Spyware Works.
Install a firewall to protect your home network. Firewalls can be part of a software package or even incorporated into some hardware like routers or modems. To learn more about firewalls, be sure to read our article on How Firewalls Work.
You should also make sure that your passwords are difficult or impossible to guess, and you shouldn't use the same password for multiple applications. This makes remembering all those passwords a pain, but it gives you an added layer of protection.
If your computer has already been infected and turned into a zombie computer, there are only a few options open to you. If you have access to tech support who can work on your computer for you, that would be the best option. If not, you can try to run a virus removal program to kill the connection between your computer and the cracker. Unfortunately, sometimes the only option you have is to erase everything on your computer and reload its operating system, then starting from scratch. You should make backup disks of your hard drive on a regular basis just in case. Remember to scan those files with an antivirus program to make sure none of them are corrupted.
Your computer is a great resource. Sadly, crackers think the same thing -- they want to make your computer their own resource. If you practice careful Internet habits and follow the tips we've described on this page, your chances of your computer remaining secure are very good.
To learn more about zombie computers and how to avoid them, check out the links on the next page.