As everyone who has ever had the flu knows, viruses can be devastating — and computers don’t get off any easier than people. Even though a flu virus and a computer virus have obvious differences, there are some similarities: Both you and your computer get viruses from others who are already infected, and prevention can help keep both of you healthy.

Keep in mind that the steps listed in this article are only recommendations that may help prevent virus infection and help deal with it if one does occur. This topic is complex, and it changes rapidly, so it’s important to stay vigilant and stay informed.

Prevention Is the Key

Your best defense is to keep your system from getting infected in the first place because once it is, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of the virus. The road to prevention begins with these steps:

  • Install effective anti-virus software. Anti-virus software is widely available; any online or brick-and-mortar store that sells software will offer a number of products. These products typically require an annual subscription, which lets you keep your anti-virus software up to date and ready to detect the latest threats.

Tip: For added protection, consider buying a security suite that includes firewall software and other protection (such as spam filtering).

  • Avoid risky behavior. For example: never open an email attachment that comes from someone you don’t know, and avoid downloading anything from the internet that might not be trustworthy. Keep in mind that humorous material is often passed along, from address to address, through email. It’s best not to open this type of file, because even if the attachment is from someone you know, they may be unknowingly passing along a virus.
  • Make regular virus scans a habit. Anti-virus software typically lets you choose whether to schedule a scan on a regular basis or perform a manual scan. Because a full scan can take an hour or more to complete, many anti-virus software packages also let you perform a quick, but less thorough, scan of the most commonly infected parts of the computer. See your product documentation for details.

Tip: While you shouldn’t depend on it for your main anti-virus solution, another option is to use a free online service to scan your computer, like Trend Micro HouseCall™* or Symantec® Security Check.*

You’ve Discovered an Infection. Now What?

If you discover a virus or related threat during a scan, follow these steps:

  • Follow your anti-virus software's on-screen instructions. Many viruses can be easily removed using this method. Another option for Windows-based systems is to use the Microsoft® Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool,* free software distributed through Windows Update* and updated monthly. Rescan your computer after you’ve removed the virus (just to be sure).

Tip: It’s also a good idea to scan again with a separate scanner, such as an online service, for added assurance.

  • Contact an expert. If first efforts aren’t enough, check your anti-virus product’s website for additional information. Sometimes — especially for high-profile threats — major anti-virus software manufacturers will provide a tool to help get rid of specific viruses. However, these tools can be complicated to use, so depending on how comfortable you are with the procedure, you might want to bring in an expert. Many large retail chains now provide in-store services that specialize in removing viruses. The cost involved can be a small amount to pay to resolve the problem.
  • Use restore disks or reinstall the operating system. A new computer often comes with a set of one or more emergency "restore" disks. If you haven’t been able to remove the virus, this set of disks might help you to resolve the problem. However, you will lose any files that haven’t been backed up on separate media. Although many anti-virus programs let you make a set of emergency restore disks when you install the software. Similarly, if your computer came with a set of one or more operating system disks, you can reinstall the operating system and return the computer to factory condition. These options are strong medicine, but if everything else fails, they may be the only way to restore your computer’s health.

Keeping Virus-Free

To help keep your system healthy:

  • Install anti-virus software and keep it up to date.
  • Don’t open suspicious email attachments or download untrustworthy internet content.
  • Set Windows Update to automatic mode.
  • Use firewall software.