GEEKNOTE: One of the nice things about the Internet is that there are a lot of good things available on the net that are totally free of charge. The flip side is that there are some “free” things on the net that are ultimately quite costly.
Antivirus software is a prime example. I can’t prove cause and effect, but I’ve seen a pretty strong correlation between using free AV software, especially Microsoft Security Essentials, and badly compromised machines.
Another example is the sort of website you see advertised on TV that guarantees to fix your computer: They often have some website name that implies how much faster or better your computer will be if you visit them. We’d probably suggest truth in advertising, eg: http://ScrewUPMyPC.com.
What these sites generally offer is some sort of registry optimizer that claims to identify errors, typically thousands of them, and then offers you the opportunity to have them fixed for a nominal charge of a few hundred dollars. Keep your credit card in your wallet.
A number of “free” offers involve the installation of browser helpers that set your computer up so you get a constant stream of advertisements. I’ve collected quite a list of these programs that I automatically remove when I see them on a computer that comes into the shop. At the top of my list are any products by Conduit, any toolbars other than perhaps one from Google or Yahoo, MyPCBackup, and pretty much anything with the word “spyware” , “antispyware”, speedup, or “Regfix” in the name. Individually, none of these are horrible, but combined, they can turn your formerly fast PC into a slug.
If you want to take advantage of some GOOD free anti-malware utilities, I recommend Malwarebytes and Spybot Search & Destroy, both of which are available at http://www.downloads.com and both of which are quite useful in their free versions.
I recommend you stay away from any of the registry cleaners and fixers. There are some very good registry utilities available, but they are like a sharp knife and they can hurt if you don’t know what you are doing.
I’m a strong fan of F-Secure Antivirus products. They start at $40 a year (for up to three machines) and they simply work. We sell them. There are several other very good commercial AV products. The key is to stay away from the free stuff.
If you want backup software, stick with one of the legitimate services like Carbonite or F-Secure Online Backup. Avoid any PC backup software that just appears on your computer.
The key thing to remember is that free stuff you find on the Internet is generally free for a reason. Be sure to consider what strings come attached before you accept the offer.
Rob Marlowe, Senior Geek
Gulfcoast Networking, Inc.