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Believe it or not, there was a time not so long ago that one’s computer was relatively secure right out of the box. No additional software or hardware was required to protect your data. Certainly viruses were around, but the distribution thereof was a lot less efficient.

Now, every computer that has internet access is at risk from viruses, adware, spyware, malware, key loggers, data miners, rootkits, trojans, phishing scams and on and on and on. It’s painfully apparent that a computer needs more help than the operating system can provide. So what, exactly do you need?

There are three things every computer should have: A firewall, Antivirus software, and Antispyware software.

Firewalls can be software- or hardware-based, and there are advantages and disadvantages to either system. Software firewalls install on your computer just like any other program. It takes space on your hard drive, and takes up memory to run and keep intruders out. After installation, you’ll have to tell your firewall what programs you want to have access to the internet. A good software firewall will ask if you want to allow internet access for any program that attempts it. Hardware firewalls can be built in to your modem, or be an extra device that sits between your computer and modem. Beware of modems that claim to protect your data through NAT, or network address translation. NAT only cares where it passes data to, not what kind of data is contained in the packets. The advantage of a hardware firewall is it doesn’t use system resources like memory or hard drive space.

Antivirus software is an absolute must. Without it, your data could be unceremoniously erased and your computer turned into a spamming slave. You could also have your identity stolen, and your accounts drained. It’s just not worth risking all this to save a few megabytes of system memory and forty dollars.

Antispyware software has been around for a few years, combating the advent of programs that gather data about which sites you visit, how often, and can turn your computer into an ad-serving zombie. The line differentiating viruses and spyware has become more blurred lately, causing some to bundle it all under the term malware. In any event, there are trojan viruses that aren’t detected by antivirus software, but antispyware software sees and eliminates it. Inversely, as the factors that differentiate spyware from viruses continue to mesh, there are also cases where antivirus software detects spyware. That’s why many software providers are putting antispyware, antivirus, and even firewall software under one roof, in the form of Internet Security Suites.

The bottom line, if your computer lacks a firewall, antivirus, and antispyware software, your data, precious pictures, and very identity are at risk. The money you spend will be returned tenfold in the headaches and downtime you avoid. Do yourself a favor and check out the top-ranked Internet Security Suites.

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