When you purchase a new computer, you will usually end up purchasing a short-term licence for an antivirus program. This will come from one of several vendors and each offers benefits that will protect your computer.

After the term ends, you will be given the opportunity to renew your licence for a period, usually one or three years, and this is a very good idea.

Virus is a generic term for a replicating piece of software that can be spread from an infected computer to other computers.

Spyware is the generic term for software placed on your computer to detect information about you or your computer usage.

Both come under the heading of malware, or malicious software. Most software protection packages protect against both viruses and spyware.

It is important to know two things about your antivirus/spyware program: is it up to date and what is the name of the antivirus program you are running?

Most packages update automatically so that isn’t your biggest concern. The main thing with your antivirus system is to keep it set to update whenever you start your computer. It is annoying at times, but that’s a minor annoyance.

However, you should be aware of what program you are running.

One of the more interesting scams is the antivirus scan. You will go to a website and see a message telling that you have a virus and offering to scan your computer for free.

It can come from a site where you have gone for information, or through social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter. By the way, an alternative version is where you get a phone call offering the same service.

What to watch out for is where this message does not come from your antivirus program. Check to see the top of the message and ensure that it is your antivirus program telling you that there is a virus alert.

This is where we bring up the important rule: never let any external agency remotely scan your computer.

What happens is you get your computer files run through and read by someone you don’t know, followed by adding insult to injury—they tell you your computer has many viruses and will offer to clean your computer for a licence fee.

You don’t have a virus, but they may plant one on your computer as part of the process.

This brings me around to another point. There is no agency that monitors for virus computers and reports this to the user.

You may get a message from your internet service provider, such as the cable or telephone company, that your computer is acting abnormally. However, in this situation, they will not offer to clean the problem for you.

Any site or phone call that informs you that your computer is affected with a virus or spyware in some way and will offer to repair it for you is not legitimate.

So, exercise a little common sense with your antivirus program.

Keep it updated and renew your licence at the end of the licence period.

Peace of mind comes at a pretty reasonable price and you probably should think of the licence fee as more an investment rather than a cost.

Doug Rutherford teaches computer networking and security for Yukon College and three post-secondary educational institutions in British Columbia.