Keeping your computer healthy

I remember when I got my first computer back around 2000. It was a great machine when it first came out. It operated quickly, my programs ran quick, and it didn’t act up too much. All of that changed after about three months of using it. It started getting sluggish, programs would not run properly, and it would lock up quite a bit. I didn’t know what to do at the time. Afterwards I just bought a new computer. A few months after that I learned what was causing the original computer to act up. It was due to a lack of maintenance. I didn’t have any AV (anti-virus) or anti-malware programs on it. I also did not regularly run two built in Windows tools: chkdsk (check disk) and defrag. If I had used this set of tools then I may have been able to keep the older computer healthy. This post is about how to keep your computer virus and malware free. Also this post will show you what built in Windows tools will help with file system maintenance.

First let’s start with anti-virus programs. What exactly is an anti-virus program? These types of programs fall under an umbrella of programs called HIDS (Host based intrusion detection). Some may disagree with this assumption but I believe that AV does fall under this category since these types of programs monitor the internals of the computer system for unwanted software. Examples of AV programs are:

  • Microsoft Security Essentials
  • Norton Anti-Virus
  • McAfee Anti-Virus

How do these programs work? After installation of the program it usually updates with files called signatures. These signatures are used by the program to pick up unwanted software that is on the computer. When the AV program scans the computer it will look for programs that match the signatures that the AV program has in its database. If there are any matches then the program will flag them and inform the user about what it has found. After that the program prompts the user about the unwanted software it found and gives the user options on what to do with the unwanted programs. Most AV programs have the same set of features: virus detection, real time protection, signature downloads, etc.

In my opinion there is nothing but pros when it comes to having AV software. No computer in use today should be without some form of AV software.

Here are some of the pros:

  • Instant detection of viruses
  • Deletion of viruses
  • Quarantine of viruses

There are no cons to having an anti- virus program installed on your computer. Today with hacking being so widespread anti-virus is critical to the safety and security of computers.

I use Microsoft Security essentials. It’s a free anti-virus solution that is available from Microsoft.

Download website: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/security-essentials-download

Another type of program that is extremely useful for computer security is anti-malware. These programs do essentially what anti-virus does. These programs are built to target malware. Make no mistake a virus is not a piece of malware. They are two different malicious programs. In my experience it’s best to have both an anti-virus and an anti-malware program installed on a computer at all times. Some examples of anti-malware programs are:

Features, pros, and cons for the anti-malware are pretty much the same as the features for the anti-virus software packages. These days never have a computer that does not have some form of anti-malware installed on it.

The next couple of tools that are useful are two built in windows utilities that assist with maintaining the file system and hard drive(s) of the computer. The first is chkdsk (check disk) and the second is disk defragment.

The first tool: chkdsk (pronounced check disk) is a Windows built in tool that checks the hard drive for errors in the file system. These errors can prevent the computer from functioning if they are not repaired. This tool will help in fixing these errors. This tool can be used in both the Windows GUI (graphical user interface) and the command line.

Click the start bar then computer
Click the start bar then computer. After that right click the C drive and click on properties.
Under error checking click on check now
This screen will allow you to check the C drive for errors. I normally click on the checkbox for scanning the disk drive for bad sectors. Under normal circumstances Windows will not allow this scanning to take place. This is because the drive is currently “mounted” and in use. If Windows allows the checking to take place it usually take quite a while. Using the command line is a much faster method for checking the disk drive for errors.

This is the second method for checking the disk drive, using the command line.

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Click the start bar then enter “cmd” into the search bar. After that right click on the cmd icon then click run as administrator. You may have to enter an administrator password in order to open the command prompt window.
Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 2.54.11 PM
After the admin command prompt comes up type “chkdsk” into the command line. Since there is no drive letter specified after the command Windows will check the boot drive (C:) by default.
Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 2.54.15 PM
After hitting enter for the check disk command Windows will go through checking the disk for errors. In the output notice that the program says that the F parameter was not specified. This means that Windows is only going to check for errors and not fix them. In order for Windows to perform a complete check the C drive must be “unmounted”. This is done by typing “chkdsk /F” at the command prompt. Windows will then ask you if it can perform a disk check on the next reboot of the system. enter y then hit enter. The next time you reboot the computer Windows will run check disk while the system is booting and also fix the error if any are found.
Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 2.54.36 PM
This is what is displayed when the /F parameter is used on the C drive. Enter y and the next time the computer boots the drive will be completely checked and any errors will be fixed.

The second tool: disk defragment is a tool that is used to organize the contents of a hard drive. As the hard drive is used the contents of the drive become fragmented. As fragmentation occurs the performance of the computer slows down. This tool helps to mitigate that problem. This tool can also be used in the GUI and the command line. I will demonstrate both methods in the tutorial below.

Click the start bar then computer
Click the start bar then computer. Then right click the C drive and left click properties.
Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 7.19.14 PM
Under disk defragment click defragment now
Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 7.19.19 PM
This is the disk defragmanet screen. Click on the C drive then click analyze. Always have Windows analyze the disk first, When this is done Windows checks to see how much of the C drive is fragmented. Based on this percentage Windows will tell you either to defragment the disk or to leave it alone. If the drive needs to be defragmented then click defragment disk after the analysis is complete. This method is much slower then the command line method. Also Windows might complain that the disk drive is in use so it will not be able to defragment it.

Here’s the command line method of using defragment.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 2.55.45 PM
Using an administrator command line prompt (see above on how to open an administrator command line prompt) type in ” defrag c: /a”. “defrag” invokes the defrag program, “c:” is the letter of the drive you want to defragment, and “/a” is the parameter that tells defragment program to analyze the drive. To defrag the drive without analyzing just type in “defrag c:”
defrag screen
This is what is displayed in the command prompt when defrag is invoked without any parameters.

One of the most important things you can do with your computer is to keep Windows patched. What exactly is a patch? A patch is a piece of code that fixes a flaw in a program. When Microsoft finds a flaw in Windows they create a patch to fix the problem. Sometimes you will see a window pop up that says updates are ready to be installed on the computer. These are the patches that Microsoft comes out with to fix problems. These patches are usually released on the second Tuesday of every month. This Tuesday is called patch Tuesday. Always keep your computer patched with updates. There is a GUI window that will allow you to check for updates anytime you want. I’ll show this in the tutorial below.

Using search bar to find windows update
Click the start bar then enter “windows update” into the search bar and hit enter.
Checking for updates
This is the Windows update screen. On the left click “check for updates”. Windows will then check for updates.
screen after checking for updates
After Windows completes checking for updates it will tell you what updates are available to download and install. These updates will be split into two categories: important and optional. Always download all of the important updates.
Screen after optonal updates is clicked
After clicking on “1 optional update is available” this screen pops up. This tells you the details of what optional updates are available to download and install. You will see a check box to the left of name. When selecting which updates to download and install this will select all updates. Do this when installing important updates.

The settings for Windows update can also be set to download important updates automatically.

Checking for updates
On the left side of the Windows update screen click on “change settings”
Windows update settings screen
This is the screen that will changes the settings for Windows update. Install updates automatically is usually selected by default and is also the setting I recommend.

The last thing is probably the most important task of all: backup your data. I remember on one of my older computers I lost all of my data because I didn’t back it up. Do not make this mistake. With all of the information that is on the average computer these days it is a real pain to have to start from scratch if data is lost.

I run my anti-virus, anti-malware, patch updates, and my data backup once a week. This has been good practice for me and I’m sure it will work well for you.

There is a real neat tool that helps with backups called free file sync. I use this tool to back up my data. I’ll cover this tool in the first post of a new blog post series called Rob’s tool box. Thanks for reading this post and if there are any questions or comments feel free to comment below.

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