Microsoft kicked off an Internet-security education campaign this week aimed at spotlighting the zombie.

No, this zombie isn't the monster in horror films. Computer zombies are home computers that have been infected and forced to take part in everything from sending out spam to hosting phishing Web sites.

Microsoft intentionally infected a computer with a virus and watched it for three weeks in hopes of discovering who was pulling the strings. What it ended up with was a PC that became part of a bigger network of computers that are spewing millions of spam e-mails and other bad stuff into cyberspace.

Microsoft and law-enforcement agencies are filing lawsuits to track down the culprits -- but it's unlikely that this single effort will eliminate the problem. Instead, it may prove, through its campaign, that firewalls, antivirus software and other tools can actually do a better job of combating the problem.

If your Windows machine is performing like a zombie, ask your self the following questions:

* Is your computer up to date on security patches? Not sure? Visit

* Are you running some sort of firewall software? If not, consider downloading and using free firewall software from Sygate, Zone Labs, Agnitum, and Kerio.

* Is your PC up-to-date on anti-virus software? It may be time to renew the free-trial software that's probably expired by now.

Finally, be extremely cautious about opening e-mail attachments or clicking on links that arrive via e-mail or instant message.

Brian Krebs is a staff writer for