Viruses, Phishing, & Malware

Follow our top tips below to avoid viruses and malware on your Windows PC:

Install Software to protect your PC

The first and most important thing to do is to install a good quality anti-virus program.  You can choose to pay money for a products such as Norton, McAfee, F-Secure, and Sophos. However you do not need to pay for your anti-virus, free versions such as MSE, AVG, Avast, Comodo, BitDefender, and Avira AntiVir will do a perfectly good job.  Never install more than one AV, to do so will significantly reduce your software’s ability to protect your machine.

It is also a good idea to install an anti-spyware program. Ad Aware SE, Malwarebytes, and Spybot Search and Destroy are freely available on the internet. These programmes operate against malware and spyware that anti-virus programs often do not protect against.

Now that your software is installed, you must now make sure you keep your virus and malware definitions updated and run a full system scan weekly. Without these critical updates, these programs are unable to protect your PC from the latest threats.

Use a firewall. Either make sure your Windows Firewall is turned on (run a search for Windows Security Center on your computer to configure) or install a trustworthy firewall program to help block unwanted internet traffic. Note that you should not run two firewalls at the same time, this can cause problems and can actually make your computer more vulnerable to infection. If you’ve purchased or downloaded another firewall, make sure to disable Windows Firewall.

Set up your Windows Update to automatically download patches and upgrades.  These updates fix security problems and block many spyware programs and viruses.

Consider switching to a different web browser. Some web browsers are more customizable than others, allowing you more control over pop-ups, ads, tracking, and other concerns that all of us face on the internet. Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera for example, have a large array of privacy- and security-related add-ons that will allow you more control over your browsing session

Dealing with Files

Use USB drives with caution. Plugging someone else’s USB drive into your computer can spread an infection via the drive itself, not the file you’re actually trying to share. Whenever possible, transfer files between machines via email to keep potentially-infected hardware out of the equation.

Be wary of files with a double extension such as .txt, .vb or .jpg.exe. As a default setting, Windows often hides common file extensions, meaning that a program like Word.exe will appear to you as simply Word. Double extensions exploit this by hiding the second, dangerous extension and reassuring you with the first, safe extension – which is utterly meaningless, your computer only recognizes the extension to the extreme right and will run the file as such. If a common file type whose extension you never normally see suddenly becomes visible for no apparent reason, right-click on it, select Properties, and look for the complete file name. You may be surprised to find out what kind of extension it really has.

To make you file extensions visible, find Folder Options in your Control Panel. (Note that it may be tucked away in Appearance and Personalization or something to that effect.) Under the View tab, scroll down to Hide Extensions for Known File Types and make sure it is unselected.

Use the Internet Safely

Beware of internet pop-ups. Many pop-ups are designed to look like they have been generated by legitimate software. If you see a pop-up that looks like anti-virus software but warns you of a problem that needs to be fixed with an extreme level of urgency, it may be a scam. Other programs report false errors and then offer to fix them if you purchase their software. If you see a new type of anti-virus pop-up that you have not seen before, or if it appears to be from an anti-virus program that you did not install, it is fake. Close the pop up, update your anti-virus program, and run a full scan. Many of these browser-related apps keep temporary files on your computer and can store a virus there. To keep this risk low, make sure you clear your browser’s cache regularly.

When in doubt about an email, file, warning, email address, advertisement, or anything else that seems suspect, do an online search to see what other people are saying. Add the word “scam” to see if other people have been affected by the malware.

Never provide personal, financial or account information to any web page at which you haven’t manually arrived. Links contained within an e-mail message can redirect you to fake web sites. When you enter web addresses manually, you can be confident that you have arrived at the page you intended.

Don’t use illegal file-sharing services. There is little in the way of quality control on these sites. You may get the film or music that you wanted, but you may also get destructive viruses or malware as well.

Use Email Wisely

Beware of unusual emails from companies you trust requesting information or recommending that you run a program. If in doubt contact the company or visit their web page to verify the request.  Some scammers will spoof the website and email address of legitimate businesses’ to gain your trust.

Legitimate businesses should not request personal information via email, as this is not a secure way of communicating.

If you use an email-retrieving program, disable image previews. Email applications like Outlook, Thunderbird, and others often automatically load attachments for your convenience, but this takes away your ability to decide whether or not a file is safe to open. Check your preferences to disable this setting.

You should never click on email attachments without at least first scanning them for viruses using your anti-malware software.

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