This article has been inspired by a situation I ran into while visiting a cousin in India. Since I’m in the IT field, she asked me to take a look at her computer since it was acting “funny”. The “funny” part was that the computer would automatically restart whenever you tried to install ANY software onto it or download any program from the Internet.
The first thing I noticed was that there was no anti-virus software installed on the computer, so my first goal was to install an anti-virus program and check for viruses. But of course, the virus that was already on the computer would not let me install or download anything! Smart virus! To make a long story short (and I mean a LONG story), there were 2256 viruses on the computer and 110 instances of spyware and malware. I have never even heard of such a ludicrous number of viruses on a computer before!
Most of the viruses on the computer were hidden in files that had been downloaded off the Internet: songs, videos, and movies. I was amazingly surprised that the computer lasted for 2 years with that many viruses! So I gave my dear cousin a serious lesson in how to protect her computer from the dangers of the Internet and I will go through them here for anyone else who might be interested!
This is by no means a comprehensive list, so if you have any suggestions, please feel free to comment and I’ll add them on!
Steps to Avoid Viruses & Malware
1. Install Anti-Virus Software – This should not even have to be listed because if you don’t have any anti-virus software installed, you’re asking for trouble! If your reason for not installing anti-virus software is because it’s too expensive, then that reason can be shot down because there are several free anti-virus programs out there that are considered better than commercial software packages. Here are some of the most popular ones:
Avira – Avira has a free version that was ranked #3 in 2014 for detecting viruses.
Bitdefender – Bitdefender had the second highest detection rate and they also have a free edition.
Panda Anti-Virus – In 2014 virus detection tests, Panda anti-virus had a 99.9% detection rate. This was the highest out of over 25+ anti-virus programs. It’s not free, but I mentioned it because of its top rating.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus – Not free, but in the top 5 in terms of detection rate.
In addition to anti-virus software, you should install one anti-malware program and the best is MalwareBytes Anti-Malware Free. It was tested in 2014 and did the best job out of 10 products, many of which were not free.
2. Update All Software – Installing an anti-virus program by itself is not enough. There are hundreds of new threats that are found daily and the anti-virus programs release updates regularly to combat these new threats. Make sure your anti-virus program is set to update automatically so that you don’t have to rely on your memory to do it. Also, this goes for all the software on your computer. The most important software to keep up to date is your Windows operating system. It is essential to have Automatic Updates turned on and set to download and install updates automatically.
3. Install only Trusted Software – If you’re not sure what a piece of software does from its name, then don’t install it. Also, don’t install anything you didn’t intend to install in the first place. Sometimes programs will ask you to install other programs during the install of the original application. Be careful of that because it’s usually spyware. If you’re installing software from big names sites like Microsoft or Adobe, you’re good. For anything else, you should first get it scanned. The easiest way to do this is to use an online tool like VirusTotal, which lets you upload a file for scanning or lets you enter the URL you want checked.
4. Avoid P2P File Sharing Software – If used with great caution, P2P software is quite useful for movies, songs and software, but if you’re not very technically savvy, you might end up downloading a song that has a keystroke logger attached to it that will send anything you type to some other computer over the Internet. It’s almost impossible to tell that this is occurring unless your anti-virus or anti-spyware programs pick it up in their scans. If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t try to torrent.
5. Delete Unknown Emails – If you receive emails from random people, do not bother to open the email, just delete it. If you have any doubts after reading the name and the subject, it’s probably not someone you know. Never download or open attachments unless you are sure it’s from someone you know. Give the person a call quickly and ask them if you’re not sure. Most large companies that you create online accounts with will not send you attachments unless you specifically ask for them through their web site. Also, be wary of any emails from sites pretending to be banks, auction sites, etc. asking for you to verify bank account info or address info. No bank ever does that.
Also, hackers try to prey on your emotions. If something sounds too good to be true, i.e. you won some money or free vacation, it probably is. Secondly, if you get any email from the IRS or police or a lawyer or anyone else trying to scare you, don’t panic and start giving out information. These are all usually scams because no official agency emails people about serious issues.
6. Do not click on Ads – Avoid clicking on ads if you can. Especially those ads where something is flying around and if you shoot the duck, you win some prize! Ads have become more sophisticated in that they try to make the ad interactive so that you’ll be tempted to play it like a game.
7. Run Virus Scans Regularly – If you’re not in the mood to scan every day, at least run a scan once a week. Actually, setup a schedule for your computer in your anti-virus software to run a scan late at night or whenever you don’t use your computer and that way you won’t be bothered with a slow computer.
8. Be careful what you attach to your computer – This is a more common way to transfer viruses than you might think. Everyone now has a USB flash stick that they carry around on their key chains, ready to snap into any computer. But who knows what viruses are on your friends’ computers and what accidentally got transferred to their USB stick. A lot of virus programs will auto launch right when the USB stick is put into the computer, so you don’t even have to open or download any of the files to be infected.
9. Avoid Shady Web Sites – If you need to look at porn, then make sure you do it in a virtual environment. You are DEFINITELY going to get a virus or spyware if you browse porn sites on your computer. Virtualization basically allows you to run programs like Internet Explorer in a virtual environment that does not affect your current operating system. If you want to find out more, search for “Virtual PC” or “VMware” in Google. Otherwise, simply avoid going to shady web sites! Also, check out my articles on Hyper-V and VMware Fusion.
10. Turn On or Install a Firewall – If you’re running Windows or Mac, make sure firewall is turned on. A firewall prevents hackers from gaining access to your computer by limiting the number of ports that are open to the public. Also, when buying a wireless router, make sure it has a built in firewall. Having a software and hardware firewall is better than just having one or the other.
11. Secure Your Wireless Network – Most wireless routers are set to no security when you install them. Be sure to log into the router and at least set the basic security that requires a password. There are stronger encryption options, but if you don’t understand those, then simply set a password on the router and the wireless network, otherwise anyone can connect to your home network and change all the settings.
12. Use a Complex Password for Login – This means that you should already have a password to login to your computer. Not having a password at all is not a good idea. Create a password for all user accounts and make sure it’s complex. Complex means it should have numbers, upper case characters, lower case characters, and symbols. This makes it way more difficult for a hacker to get into your computer.
13. Use Two Factor Authentication – Many online services now allow you to enable two factor authentication, which means you’ll need to type in a code in addition to your password when logging in. This makes your account much more secure, even though it adds a bit on inconvenience. You should enable it on all the major services like Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc. Check out my article on setting up two factor authentication and properly configuring it.
14. Use encryption when possible – Even if someone is able to steal your data or monitor your Internet connection, encryption could help prevent the hacker from being able to read any of that information. You can encrypt your Windows or OS X hard drive, encrypt a USB flash drive, and even encrypt all your web traffic using a VPN.
If you follow all the steps above, you can rest assured that you will be able to avoid 99% of the Internet threats that are out there. It’s really a matter of being disciplined and careful rather than being completely carefree when using your computer. Enjoy!