Did you know that most computer viruses don’t come from email anymore? They come from infected websites. And, they’re not just viruses but botnets and trojan horses. What is all this stuff? A botnet is a piece of software that is placed on your computer that has instructions to do various things like send out viruses and other bots. Sometimes they even have instructions to record your keystrokes and send them back to the originator. Those keystrokes contain your passwords to certain sites. A trojan horse is a program that offers to install a useful item, like a menu bar, and then as part of the install it puts viruses or botnets on your computer. Another thing they could do is to open backdoors to your computer to allow entry at some future point for someone to put a bot or keyboard recorder on your computer.
This all said, it is critical that you have an anti-virus program and a firewall on your computer. Yes, browsers are getting better with their security (see the Firefox article) but people creating the malware are continually working on ways to get around the security. When looking for an antivirus program, look for one that has both antivirus protection and a firewall built in. Don’t trust the Windows Firewall that is installed with your operating system. If you don’t have a firewall, a good free firewall is COMODO Firewall (http://www.personalfirewall.comodo.com/). Another one is Zone Alarm (http://www.zonealarm.com/store/content/catalog/products/zonealarm_free_firewall.jsp). When you install a firewall, you’ll have to teach it what programs to allow to connect to the internet so for the first few days, you’ll be getting popups asking.
As for anti-virus software, the best ones you’ll have to pay for, and there are a couple of free ones that are pretty good. AVG (http://free.avg.com/) and Avast (http://www.avast.com/eng/avast_4_home.html) will give you good virus protection. Whatever anti-virus program you use, make sure that it is set to automatically download updates. There are thousands of new malware items released each month so it’s critical that your computer is protected.