I recently got an emergency email from a friend of mine saying her 9-year old daughter was having issues with some non-age-appropriate pop-ups. I was happy to help her, and it reminded me of those "Make Your Computer Faster" commercials where they'll "scan" your computer and then suggest you purchase their cleaning program.
You don't need to subscribe to a service or buy software to clean your system. You can do it youself - for free! Here's an overview.
Every time you visit a website, every image you see on your screen is actually stored on your computer in a temporary file. It's referred to as a cache by the browser. When connection speeds were slower, this helped everyone: the browser checked if the referenced file was already living on your system and the server didn't have to download it and you saw web pages faster because the bigger graphics were already there.
But today, when speeds are much higher and good developers optimize graphics, it's not so much an issue. But the storage still happens. And with a higher rate of speed comes a higher rate of browsing - and much more sitting, stale, on your hard drive.
Along with graphics comes Cookies. A Cookie is when you go to website - say a weather website - and they put a little bit of information on your system. In this case, your zip code. So when you visit that weather website again, you don't have to enter your zip again; it reads it off the cookie and you see your town without ever thinking about it. Multiply that times a million.
Whether it's a nasty bug or a full-on virus, if you are on the internet, your are vulnerable. Programs and clips of programs piggyback on everything you can possibly download. And it can shut down your system or act as a "zombie," waiting an activation code to attack anything from YouTube to a government computer, depending on what the writer intended.
Some viruses only exist to propagate and gum up the system. I actually had one of these 2 years ago and it not only slowed my system to a crawl, but crippled almost all my anti-virus and anti-malware programs, as well as shutting down the installation of new anti- programs.
So whether it's cleaning your system or killing viruses, here's what you need to do.
First off, everyone who is using Internet Explorer needs to be using Firefox. Go to their website and download it for free (will open in a new window - do it NOW). IE is more susceptible to these issues. Period.
Once Firefox is installed, go to Tools > Options > Privacy and make sure Clear History when Firefox Closes is checked. Click the Settings... button next to it and make sure it clears everything. Then, every time you close your browser, you're getting rid of junk.
And here's where I tell you to download the cleaning software. Don't worry; it's all free (save 1 optional). And you don't need ALL of them. Try the first couple and if you still have issues, keep going. Click on the name to go to that site - all open in a different window.
CCleaner - cleans out the temporary files and cookies cached on your system. It scans your registry. You should run this at the end of every day.
Window Washer - This does what CCleaner does, but a little more thoroughly. It's my personal fav and the only program you would have to buy that I'm listing. It can erase data with an overwrite standard of the NSA. I like it; you don't have to buy it. CCleaner does what 99% of you need to do.
Malwarebytes - scans for some of the more dangerous items, called "malware" that can be part of downloads and might be programmed to do your computer some damage. If your computer has them, it'll root them out.
Ad-Aware - Classic standby to keep the pop-ups at bay. This hits the cookies as well, but tends to be best to root out the bad stuff you might pick up by clicking (or even viewing) advertising.
A-Squared - This is the program that saved my computer. Granted, it was because the virus's database did not include that program as a Stop, but it's especially good at rooting out trojan horse viruses. And killing them dead.
HijackThis - This program will run a scan on your whole running system if you have a problem. The only issue I have posting it is it's not DIY for amateurs. You'll have to go to the website forum, post the result, and get an answer. Granted, the folks there are awesome and responsive. Just wanted to alert anyone to the extra step (especially if they're dealing with a dead internet connection).
That Virus Thing
You should also have ONE anti-virus program running (multiples can cancel each other out or even fight for dominance). These run all the time and check out incoming items as they're saved or opened. The best free I've found - and both are excellent - have been:
Now go get those programs and clean up your stuff! If you've had your computer for more than 4 months, you should probably also Defragment your hard drive, but that's a completely different post.
Be with you soon about that.
As always, comments welcome, especially from anyone who has different/better programs to pass on to my readers. Much appreciated!