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How to Scan Your Computer for Security Risks

written by: Greg Brian•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 11/25/2009

With all the breathtaking security risks to our computers out there, it’s equally breathtaking that many people don’t bother to scan their computer to see if they’re vulnerable to a hacker or other threats.

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    Yet we can’t always be sure the anti-virus software or firewalls we have running are working right, depending on the type used. And it doesn’t take considerable effort to get your computer checked for security breaches to amend the situation. Plus, nearly all security risk scans are free.

    If one follows these steps and options for gaining reality into how vulnerable a computer can be, a new sense of security can be had:

    Websites providing free security risk scans

    • Symantec provides a free security risk scan of your computer when visiting security.symantec.com. Running their program will take a little time, but checks if you’re vulnerable to hackers or whether you have Windows security breaches. It also lets you know if the current virus program you’re using is really up to date and perhaps overlooking viruses that could cripple your computer.

    • At Sophos.com, a patented and assured Endpoint Assessment Test is there to download that thoroughly catches any security holes your computer might have. This one touts catching myriad Windows patches you may have missed. They claim to check up on 700 of them and identifying more viruses than their competitors. Whether exaggerated or not, it’s a good option.

    • McAfee.com provides a free scan of your computer, though mainly checks for viruses rather than identifying any holes in Windows or your virus and firewall software. McAfee, though, is arguably the best in catching some of the worst viruses. This scan identifies the nastiest ones and cleans them up for you if they happen to be hiding somewhere in your operating system. Download McAfee’s free SiteAdvisor to help you avoid phishing sites when using Google.

    • Housecall.trendmicro.com is also a decent website to get a free security scan. As of this writing, their latest 7.1 version provides a new option of scanning specific folders in your hard drive to save you time with unnecessary checks in locations you’re confident are already clean.

    Scanning for security risks through Windows

    While the above sites are some of the best on the web in scoping out computer security breaches, Windows provides one security program that can be scheduled to run on its own every night:

    • The must-have but little-advertised Windows Defender can be downloaded for free at Microsoft’s website with an option of scanning on its own any time you want. I recommend setting it during a time when you’re sleeping (preferably a.m. hours) because it does bog down your computer somewhat while performing a thorough scan. In its 1-hour full scan, Defender primarily goes after spyware, although finds other programs that can cause security risks.

    • Use the Software Explorer feature on Windows Defender to look up detailed information on software you may have downloaded that can steal personal information. In this detailed menu, you can go in and stop particular programs individually rather than using a firewall to block access to them that can create confusion for Windows itself and a breakdown of all security.