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Few computer users remain who don’t know their computer should have some sort of antivirus protection. Whether it’s a Windows PC or a once-thought-to-be-immune Apple Mac, good antivirus protection is a must-have.

Like most things related to computer safety and security, antivirus programs are not magic, hands-off, no-thought-required products. You will still have to do a few things, answer a few questions and make a few decisions. Your effort will be rewarded, provided you follow a few basic rules.

You should have no more than one antivirus program installed and actively running at a time; the key word here is “running.” Some antivirus programs can be installed, but not constantly running in the background. In other words, they can be run “on demand” to give your computer a checkup at your discretion, but they don’t start running as soon as you turn on your computer.

You do want to have an antivirus program that starts up and actively runs in the background as soon as you turn on your computer. This is called “real-time protection,” and it is something you absolutely must have. However, there should be only one product that provides this vital function. If you have two antivirus programs installed and providing real-time protection at the same time, they will fight each other, and the result can be worse than not having anything at all.

Choosing which antivirus product to use can be a challenging quest. Naturally, every antivirus company claims to be the best, and truly objective online reviews of antivirus programs can be hard to come by. As such, I have chosen to trust the evaluations and test results of, shall we say, the leading consumer reporting magazine of our times.

My reasons for this are simple: they have a million-dollar laboratory to test antivirus products, and I do not. I also do not have a team of technicians to do my bidding, but they do. This “leading consumer reporting magazine” is renowned for its impartiality and thoroughness, so I have adopted their antivirus opinions as my own.

Every year, this magazine tests the major antivirus products and issues a report describing the test results. They also make recommendations as to what consumers might want to use. For the past five or six years, a number of excellent products like Avast, Avira and AVG have rotated between the top spots. This year, AVG ; last year, it was Avira, with Avast Antivirus showing up as number one as often as not. Get one for yourself; I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Other top-ranking products are from BitDefender, Trend Micro and F-Secure. At the other end of the scale, many consumers are shocked to learn that some well-known antivirus products, such as Norton and McAfee, are not top-rated and are not recommended by me. My favorite free antivirus program is Avast, as it is easy for most computer users to install and doesn’t demand much in the way of system resources, but all of the top three are good choices.

You also need to make sure your antivirus program is properly configured. Sometimes, a programs’ default settings are fine; sometimes, they are not. It is your job to make sure they are set to be the best they can be. Make sure it is set to start when you turn on your computer, and to update itself often. Set it to do a complete system scan on a regular basis; once a week is good for most users. Make sure it scans everything, with no exceptions.

Finally, make sure you know the name of your antivirus product. This can be critical if fake alerts start popping up, claiming that your computer is suddenly “infected.” If you don’t know the name of your antivirus program, you can be easily fooled. Learn its name and stay safe.