Protect Your Computer

With the advancements made in technology in the last several years, you very likely use your computer or mobile device to make online purchases or manage your finances. Additionally, you probably store a great deal of sensitive information on your computer. This makes your pc a very attractive target to criminals wanting to steal your identity through the use of malicious software (“malware”) that takes advantage of your computer’s vulnerabilities.

Viruses, worms, Trojans, spyware and other malware can infect your computer in a number of ways and are sometimes very difficult to detect or remove. They often install themselves when you open an e-mail attachment or unknowingly visit a malicious web site. Once installed, they can log your keystrokes, provide remote control to a criminal, or make your computer unusable. Since malware can be hard to remove, the best solution is to prevent the infection in the first place.

How Do I Avoid Getting Infected?

You must be certain of BOTH the source AND content of each file you download! In other words, you need to be sure that you trust not only the person or file server that gave you the file, but also the contents of the file itself. Here are some practical tips to avoid getting infected:

  1. Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software on all computers. Though there is no guarantee they will stop every malware program, they will prevent a lot of infection. Make sure you keep the software updated with the most current releases and definitions.
  2. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security just because you run anti-virus programs. Those do not protect perfectly against many viruses and Trojans, even when fully up to date. Anti-virus programs should not be your front line of security, but instead they serve as a backup in case something sneaks onto your computer.
  3. Keep your computer software updated with most recent patches. Microsoft releases new patches for vulnerabilities in Windows, Internet Explorer, Office and other programs every month to fix vulnerabilities that could allow your computer to be compromised. If you have other programs such as Adobe Flash or Java, those need to be kept updated as well.
  4. Use a firewall. A firewall is a software program or piece of hardware that blocks hackers from entering and using your computer. Hackers search the Internet in much the same way that some telemarketers automatically dial random phone numbers. Hackers send electronic probes, or pings, to thousands of computers and wait for responses. Firewalls prevent your computer from responding to these random pings. A firewall blocks communications to and from sources you don't permit. This is especially important if you have a high-speed Internet connection, such as DSL or cable.
  5. Secure your wireless network. If you use a wireless network in your home, take precautions to secure it against hackers. Encrypting wireless communications is the first step.
    • Choose a wireless router with an encryption feature and turn it on. WPA encryption is considered stronger than WEP. Your computer, router, and other equipment must use the same encryption.
    • Consider disabling identifier broadcasting if your router enables it.
    • Note the name assigned to your Wi-Fi network. This name – called an SSID, or Service Set IDentifier – lets you connect your computers to the network manually. The SSID is often the equipment maker's name.
    • Change the SSID on your router and the pre-set administrative password. Hackers know the pre-set passwords on many wireless routers.
    • Consider turning off your wireless network when you're not using it.
  6. Avoid Wi-Fi Hot Spots. When you access a Wi-Fi network that is open to the public, your phone can be an easy target of cybercriminals. You should limit your use of public hotspots and instead use protected Wi-Fi from a network operator you trust or mobile wireless connection to reduce your risk of exposure, especially when accessing personal or sensitive information. Always be aware when clicking web links and be particularly cautious if you are asked to enter account or log-in information.
  7. NEVER download blindly from people or sites which you aren't 100% sure about. In other words, as the old saying goes, don't accept candy from strangers. If you do a lot of file downloading, it's often just a matter of time before you fall victim to malware.
  8. Even if the file comes from a friend, you still must be sure what the file is before opening it, because many times malware will automatically try to spread itself to friends in an email address book or on an IRC channel. There is seldom reason for a friend to send you a file that you didn't ask for. When in doubt, ask them first, and scan the attachment with a fully updated anti-virus program.
  9. Beware of hidden file extensions! Windows by default hides the last extension of a file, so that innocuous-looking "susie.jpg" might really be "susie.jpg.exe" – a malware executable! To reduce the chances of being tricked, unhide those pesky extensions.
  10. NEVER use features in your programs that automatically get or preview files. Those features may seem convenient, but they let anybody send you anything which is extremely reckless. For example, always disable the preview mode in Outlook and other email programs.
  11. Never blindly type commands that others tell you to type, or go to web addresses mentioned by strangers, or run pre-fabricated programs or scripts (not even popular ones). If you do so, you are potentially trusting a stranger with control over your computer, which can lead to malware infection or other serious harm.
  12. Watch out for rogue anti-virus pop-ups. Sometimes, while surfing the Internet, you may get a pop-up that indicates you have several infections. It prompts you to download a program to clean your computer, for a fee, of course. This is a scare tactic to get you to provide your credit card information. Don’t be tricked by these warnings.
  13. Don't download an executable program just to "check it out." If it is malware, the first time you run it, you are already infected!

How Do I Get Rid Of Malware?

Here are your many options, but none of them are perfect. You should read through all of them before rushing out and trying to run some program blindly. Remember - that's how you got in this trouble in the first place. Good luck!

  1. Clean Re-installation: Although time-consuming and aggravating, this will always be the only sure way to eradicate a Trojan or virus. Back up your entire hard disk, reformat the disk, re-install the operating system and all your applications from original CDs, and finally, if you're certain they are not infected, restore your user files from the backup. If your computer has the System Restore feature, you can also try selecting a restore point from a date prior to the infection. If you are not comfortable attempting either of these yourself, you can pay for a professional repair service to do it.
  2. Security Software: Some of these can handle most of the well-known security risks, but none are perfect, no matter what their advertising claims. You absolutely MUST make sure you have the very latest update files for your programs, or else they will miss the latest malware. It is best to use software that can detect and remove a variety of risks including viruses, trojans and spyware from your data files, e-mail and web sites.
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