With inexpensive broadband deals tempting more people online than ever before, it’s not surprising that viruses and spyware are on the increase. With ever more sophisticated malware floating around the net, it takes a brave or foolish person, and one handy with a recovery disc, to venture online without up-to-date antivirus protection.

This article appears in the January 07 issue of PC Advisor, onsale now in all good newsagents.

Even with antivirus software installed, if its not kept up-to-date your PC will still be vulnerable. The resulting attacks are potentially catastrophic. They can result in a total loss of precious data, as well as incurring the wrath of every email contact you unwittingly infect. Worse, your PC could be turned into nothing more than an expensive paperweight, a zombified system remotely serving hackers and providing them with sensitive data.

While malware poses a very serious threat to the health of a PC, it’s worth keeping in mind that real life isn’t Hollywood. Real viruses aren’t like the ones in the movies that melt down whole networks in seconds and destroy alien spacecraft. They operate in the background, quietly altering data and settings, logging and reporting details of your private files or using your PC for their own illegal ends. This makes them hard to spot if you’re not well protected.

It’s because they’re so opaque that users become paranoid about every oddity. Quirks can often be attributed to causes other than a virus, worm or bot. Is your system slowing down? Is your hard drive filling up rapidly? Are programs crashing without warning? It’s likely these quirks are caused by Windows, or badly written programs, rather than malware.

After all, people who write malware want to hide their program’s presence. People who write commercial software dump icons on the desktop. Who’s going to work harder to go unnoticed?

If you’ve let your guard down it can be hard to tell whether your PC is infected. But we’re here to explain what to do if you suspect the worst - simply check out the Security Advisor section of the magazine, plus the Security Advisor topic zone and the Helproom forum.