If you have a computer, chances are you worry about an infection. And perhaps you should – in the third quarter of 2012, 13 percent of home networks were infected, according to Kindsight Security Labs.
But have you ever wondered how malicious and other undesirable software gets onto your computer? When it comes to answering that question, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that it’s pretty easy to get infected. The good news is, most malware is introduced as a result of a user’s actions – which means there’s a lot you can do to avoid it.
Here are some top things to watch out for.
If you get a link in an email, you should always be cautious because despite who the sender claims to be, clicking that link could take you to a spam site or even download malware directly onto your computer. According to Sophos, a developer and vendor of security software and hardware, the most recent malicious spam appears to be coming from the likes of YouTube, LinkedIn and Amazon.com, all reputable sites. In reality, these emails are forged, and the links could lead users to a world of trouble.
How to avoid emailed malware: Although these emails may look like legitimate emails from sites you actually use, email headers can be forged and emails can be specially crafted to look like the real thing. Avoid clicking on links from unsolicited email. If you’re tempted to click, at least hover over the link with your mouse so you can see where that link is really going. And don’t worry – opening the email itself won’t put you at risk.
Visiting Websites – Especially Questionable Ones
Some websites are designed for the sole purpose of distributing malware. Websites that feature pornography top the list here, but those that offer free screensavers, emoticons and other downloads are danger zones as well. Generally, a visit to this type of site will result in several pop-ups asking you to install an application for a video player, an ActiveX control or, as we discussed in a previous example, an anti-malware program. Unfortunately, malware can also come from reputable sites that have been compromised by hackers.
How to avoid questionable websites: The best way to protect yourself from questionable websites is to ensure that the version of the browser you are using is up to date and that the security settings in that browser are set as high as reasonably possible. Install browser updates whenever prompted to do so, or choose a browser that updates automatically, like Google Chrome. You should also update your operating system regularly, or allow automatic updates when possible. Finally, anti-virus software should be installed and kept up to date.
If you’ve downloaded any software recently, you might have received a prompt to install other things as part of the process, such as toolbars or a new browser home page. Don’t be fooled – this software bundling is becoming increasingly common, even in legitimate, reputable software. While this “crapware” is generally harmless in the sense that it won’t damage your computer or steal personal information, it may show ads or annoying pop-ups, and it can seriously impede your computer’s performance.
How to avoid bundled software: The extra apps that companies try to sneak into your computer aren’t always malware, but they are annoying, and they can slow your computer down so much it may be rendered virtually inoperable. Anytime you download software such as a new version of Adobe Flash, be sure to read all the screens that come up during the installation process and uncheck any boxes that pertain to additional software or toolbars. Trust me, you don’t want them!
Here’s something every computer user needs to be clear about: No anti-malware program is capable of scanning your computer without your permission, and no reputable anti-malware company markets its products by sending you scary emails, phone calls or pop-ups. These messages, which often claim that the user’s computer is suffering from a raging and critical malware infection, are scams, and they often prompt fearful users into giving scammers access to their computers, their personal information and even their credit cards.
How to avoid scareware: Steer clear of programs that constantly bother you to register and purchase software to clean up your infected computer. At best, you will end up paying to fix a system that isn’t broken; at worst, you’ll be giving an unknown entity access to your system and personal information, or the ability to install real malware that will. If you’re looking for malware protection, always go directly to the URL of a reputable anti-malware provider. Many offer free PC scans right on their front page. You can check out a list of the top reputable security providers here.
OK, now that you’ve read about this, you’re probably more worried than ever, right? Well, before you run screaming from your PC, remember that one of the best ways to avoid malware is to become comfortable and familiar with your computer. This will make it a lot easier for you to detect when something looks fishy.
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