Keeping Your Computer Environment Safe From Hackers, Spyware, Worms, and Viruses

A Simister Family Networks Guide

Updated for 2010

These days, your computer is an integral part of your life. You use it to find information, shop, and stay in contact with others via social networks, instant messages, and e-mail. You keep your personal history, family pictures, and other digital treasures on its hard drive. But what if you no longer could log onto the internet? What if your archive of digital photos and data suddenly vanished? What if your computer just ceased to operate?

There are many threats to your PC, especially if it is connected to other PCs in a home or office network or the internet. Worms and viruses are the most prevalent threats on the internet today, ranging from the relatively harmless to the extremely destructive. They usually slow down your computer, and can cause significant loss of data. They can even cause your PC to aid in attacking other innocent victims.

Another threat is spyware, or generally, any software that "spies" on you, the user, whether by tracking what you do, or inspecting what you have installed. These can eavesdrop on your personal email conversations and "sniff" your passwords when you logon to secure websites. Then, the data is reported back to the spyware's author, usually for illicit use and without your knowledge. Some less severe forms of spyware come from "legitimate" sources claiming that it is intended to "help" you or "improve" your experience with their software or website. Some of these you may even find do improve your experience, and may wish to keep, but it is always better to understand and actively manage the risks to which you open yourself and your loved ones.

Finally, hackers can wreak havoc on your PC if they can attain access to it. And that doesn't just mean physical access. When you connect to a network of other PCs, each of those connections is another avenue of attack for a hacker.

In today's world, it is not possible (or at least not desirable) to entirely isolate your computer from the rest of the world. However, there are measures you can take to limit the threats to your PC. Here is a list of recommended software to help keep your computer safe.

Complete Internet Security Suites

These suites provide a comprehensive solution to protecting your computer (and yourself) from online threats. They generally require an annual fee to keep your protection up-to-date, but may provide that added peace-of-mind to know you're always in good hands.


Antivirus software helps protect your PC from harmful viruses and worms.

Spyware Check

Spyware checkers help protect your personal information from being stolen or used without your knowledge.


A firewall helps prevent unauthorized access to your computer.

Internet Browser

An internet browser displays content from the web, such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE). Unfortunately, IE is not the safest program to use, and other options exist that can provide you with a better, safer web experience.

Email Client

An email client is used to access your email from your Internet Service Provider (ISP), such as Microsoft's Outlook Express. Again, Outlook Express is not as safe to use as several other email clients. Here is a list of recommended alternatives.