Protecting Your Personal Computer

​Whilst the University can't look after your personal computer at home, you can take certain steps to ensure that it's a safe environment for you to work on University material. Effective protection will safeguard against your computer being infected with viruses and spyware that could result from your online activities that seem completely harmless – such as searching the internet, downloading, playing games and even using email. In turn, it will safeguard you against potentially serious consequences such as fraud and identity theft.

Please note, the following is given as advice only. Teesside University ITServices cannot support any personal computing equipment.


Viruses & Spyware

A virus is a file written with the sole intention of doing harm, or for criminal activity. There are many types of virus. 

The Risks

Viruses and spyware can attack your computer via the following means:
•  Opening infected email attachments such as .exe files.
•  Opening infected files from web-based digital file delivery companies (for example YouSendIt, Dropbox).
•  Visiting corrupt websites.
•  Via the internet, undetected by the user (worms are an example of this).
•  Macros in application documents (word processing, spreadsheets etc).
•  USB connected devices (eg memory sticks, external hard drives, MP3 players).
•  CDs/DVDs.
Viruses and spyware can cause very serious consequences including:
 •Identity theft.
• Fraud.
• Deletion, theft and corruption of data.
• A slow or unusable computer.

Antivirus Software

It is vital to keep your antivirus software up to date in order to provide the most complete protection. Thousands of new viruses are detected every year, to say nothing of the variants of new and existing ones. Each has a set of characteristics or ‘signatures’ that enable antivirus software manufacturers to detect them and produce suitable updates.
Most antivirus software automatically downloads these updates (sometimes referred to as ‘definitions’) on a regular basis, as long as you are online and have paid your annual subscription (for a paid-for product). This should ensure protection against even the latest virus threats.
Antivirus software scans for viruses in a number of different ways:
• It scans incoming emails for attached viruses.
• It monitors files as they are opened or created to make sure they are not infected.
• It performs periodic scans of the files on your computer.
Some antivirus software also scans USB connected devices (eg memory sticks, external hard drives, MP3 players), as they are connecting. Some also highlights suspect websites.
Antivirus software will not protect you against:
• Any kind of fraud or criminal activity online not initiated by a virus.
• A hacker trying break into your computer over the internet.
It is not effective if it is switched off or not updated with the latest virus signatures.

Choosing antivirus/antispyware software

For personal and home office use there are a number of choices that you can take to decide which antivirus/antispyware software to buy:

  • Package or standalone antivirus/antispyware software. Most antivirus/antispyware software companies sell a program that only scans for viruses, as well as selling full security packages that provide other protection including firewall, spam filtering, antispyware and parental controls. Antivirus/antispyware packages alone normally cost from £20 and full packages from £30. A package should include everything you need to protect your PC against online threats, is easy to use as everything is controlled from one screen, and is cheaper than buying each component separately.
  • Free antivirus/antispyware software.There are a number of antivirus/antispyware products that are free for personal or non-commercial use. In most cases, these ‘free’ products are no-frills versions of purchasable products which the manufacturer hopes you will upgrade to in the future. The protection factor is likely to be equivalent to the paid-for version, but there may be limited or no technical support and some reduced functionality, for example in scheduling full scans.
  • Windows Defender software is included – and enabled by default – in Windows Vista and Windows 7, and is available as a free download for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. The Microsoft product is designed to prevent, remove, and quarantine spyware in Microsoft Windows. It was formerly known as Microsoft AntiSpyware.
Some manufacturers and retailers provide various security software bundled with the computer. You do not have to use the security software supplied, but if you decide to keep it, do not forget to subscribe once the free trial period is over so that it stays up to date.

Where to get antivirus/antispyware software

Antivirus/antispyware software and internet security packages are available to purchase from a variety of high street and online retailers as well as from the software manufacturers’ own websites. When purchasing in store, it is normal to load a disk and then download updates over the internet when prompted. When purchasing online, you will automatically download the latest version incorporating all updates.
Free antivirus/antispyware software and internet security packages as described above, are available from some internet service providers (ISPs) and banks. It is also possible to download free antivirus/antispyware software from the internet, but be sure you are using a trustworthy website.

Virus & Spyware Protection 

  • Apart from installing antivirus/antispyware software and keeping it updated, there are a number of other ways in which to keep your computer protected against viruses and spyware. After all, prevention is better than cure.
  • Do not open any files attached to an email from an unknown, suspicious or untrustworthy source.
  • Uninstall one antivirus program before you install another.
  • Be careful with USB connected devices (eg memory sticks, external hard drives, MP3 players) as they are very common carriers of viruses.
  • Be careful with CDs/DVDs as they can also contain viruses.
  • Do not open any files from web-based digital file delivery companies (eg YouSendIt, Dropbox) that have been uploaded from an unknown, suspicious or untrustworthy source.
  • Switch on macro protection in Microsoft Office applications like Word and Excel.
  • Buy only reputable software from reputable companies.
  • When downloading free software, do so with extreme caution.