Viruses and other malware are nasty. They steal your private information, slow your computer down, and generally make your life miserable. So what can you do about them? Here are a few steps you can take today that will provide the best virus protection for your computer.
The Best Virus Protection – 5 Steps
Step 1: Block those Ads!
One of the most common ways I see computers getting infected with viruses are through ads. Yes, ads are not always safe to click on. So, why not avoid seeing ads online, altogether? The best way to accomplish this is to start using a more secure web browser like Google Chrome, and installing the Adblock+ plugin. Voila! You now have no more ads, and one less vector for viruses, spyware and other malware to find its way to your computer!
Step 2: Be Smart Online – Avoid Phishing Scams!
Phishing (pronounced “fishing”) is a common issue in the online world. It works like this. A con artist, often someone outside of your current legal jurisdiction (can you spell “offshore”?), sends you an email pretending to be your bank or your doctor or someone else you trust. This email looks legitimate right down to the logo and contact information. The fraudster asks you to follow a link they have provided and enter your log-in credentials, social security number or other personally identifiable data. If you fall for this trick, they will then use the information you’ve entered for any number of criminal acts such as opening accounts in your name, buying a house in your name, or simply draining your bank account empty. Scared? No worries, there are ways to avoid this scam. First, never give out your private or financial details by email or over the phone unless you are absolutely sure you know who the recipient is. In fact, email is just not secure enough to use for most private details, so just don’t use it at all to communicate this information. Secondly, when entering your log-in credentials on a website, always check for the ‘lock symbol’ and ensure the URL contains the ‘s’ for ‘secure’ in the “https://” portion of the web address. And lastly, if you think your computer’s security has been compromised, disconnect it immediately from the internet and run a good virus/malware scanner.
Step 3: Only Install Known-Good Software
You know that free hunting game you recently downloaded from some obscure website and installed for your kid? It likely also installed a payload of nefarious software that will start to wreak havoc on your computing experience. The point is, don’t install software, unless you know it comes from a reputable vendor. And definitely avoid any kind of pirated software from file-sharing sites and peer-to-peer networks. It is often laced with ad-ware, spyware, trojans and other under-worldly adventures. Just avoid it.
Step 4: Secure Your Computer
Often referred to as ‘hardening’ your computer, this is just like putting locks on your home’s windows and doors to make it harder for a would-be thief to enter. So how do you secure your computer?
- Ensure your computer’s built-in firewall is turned on. Here’s a guide to doing this in Windows.
- Install quality antivirus software. There are well-known brands in this space, but I personally prefer one of these three excellent free antivirus options: Avira, Avast or BitDefender. I find these three options to provide the best protection while maintaining a low profile on your computer, not hogging your system resources.
- Update your software. New threats are constantly emerging online, so as a best practice you should update Windows, Office, web plugins like Adobe Reader, and any other software that runs on your local computer. You don’t have to worry about updating cloud-based apps like Google Docs, since these are constantly updated and patched by the companies that host them.
- Run a malware scan at once a month. This is different than simply having antivirus installed on your computer. I would recommend scanning your computer for all known adware, spyware and other forms of malware with a broad-spectrum scanner like Malwarebytes.
Step 5: Use DNS Based Virus & Malware Protection
DNS, or Domain Name System, is the technology that converts a URL like Youtube.com to a unique web address like 184.108.40.206. It makes the web easier to use (imagine trying to remember that number?). By default, your computer’s settings are pointed at two ‘name servers’ that do the translation work. These name servers are often owned by your ISP or internet service provider and usually do a great job at providing you access to ANY website online. But therein lies the problem. There’s no way the name server knows if you are trying to access a website containing known malware or a safe and secure online shopping site like eBay. Using an alternative DNS ‘name server’ can give you additional protection and automatically block your web browser from accessing potentially harmful websites. I personally use and recommend OpenDNS. They are free for personal use (business options are also available), and provide category-based web content filtering as well. If you are a parent, that last feature will come in handy and help you feel a little less nervous about letting your kids use the internet.
That pretty much wraps it up.