I recently had a conversation with someone who had pretty much had their computer trashed due to a virus someone had sent them. And it made me realize there are still a lot of people out there who don’t know how to protect themselves from malicious software, viruses, and spyware!
So I decided to write an article on how to protect your computer from getting infected by a virus. I felt the need to try and educate you on what a virus/malware/adware etc.. are. If you don’t wish to learn and just jump to how to protect yourself? Skip to the bottom to find out.
Virus, Spyware, and Adware – Oh My!
Lets take a very summarized look at what different nasties are that can infect your computer. I’ve provided the Wikipedia links if you wish to go more in-depth to their histories and how they work.
What is a Virus?
The true terminology for a virus is a piece of code that can infect a computer and be allowed to replicate itself. It has to be allowed to execute code and be able to write to memory to allow it to infect other computer systems. What makes them bad is that they are almost always written to corrupt your computer’s system while it’s trying to spread to other systems corrupting them as well.
This is exactly like the Greek story. A piece of malicious code hides “inside” the legitimate application. These are used to either harm your computer or as a way to steal your personal information.
A Worm is a piece of software that usually exploits a computer or network vulnerability (a flaw or piece of code that is easily exploited) and spreads itself through that network.
In the end all I know is they are a pain in the ass once they are infected onto my computer – and I want to get rid of them as soon as I find out I’ve been infected with one!
What is Spyware?
This is where things get weird. Spyware is actually known as malware but not to be confused with adware. What is important to know is that this is a piece of software that is installed on your computer to track your computing habits. Unlike a virus or a worm – they do not replicate themselves.
Malicious versions of spyware can also install key loggers (they read what you are typing) or worse to not only track your habits but to get your personal information. Still other types of spyware can cause issues with your computers performance slowing it down significantly.
The problem with adware is that it is usually something you intentionally install on your computer. It will then track your surfing habits and try and offer you ads based on your interests. Technically adware is any piece of software that displays ads inside of it instead of you purchasing a “full” version without ads. Toolbars for your browser and the most famous out there Bonzai Buddy are two great examples of Adware that unsuspecting computer users install on their computer.
The bottom line for all of the above? I don’t want them on my computer – and neither should you!
How to Protect Yourself From Them
So now that you know what spyware or virus’s are and how they work. How do you go about protecting yourself from getting infected on your computer?
Install Anti Virus and anti-Spyware Software
If you don’t already have an anti virus and malware software installed on your computer. Or even better if you have them and they have expired? You need to stop what your doing RIGHT NOW and go install them. You can go to my article: My Must Have Free Software for a New Windows Install to give you an idea of what I use.
This is my personal experience – but stay away from the Nortons and McAffe’s of the world. There are some great alternatives that work a lot better are Panda, Avast, eSoft, and Kaspersky. Plus they tend to be A LOT cheaper than those “main” brands.
I personally run Malwarebytesand Glary’s Utilities. Although Malwarebytes is specifically design just to scan and remove malware/spyware on your computer. Glary’s Utilities is that one click solution for keeping your computer clean from cookies, temporary files you don’t need, registry errors, and potential spyware hiding in those places as well! Both are free – but you will need to pay for the upgraded versions.
The good news is if you run a home network and use a Wireless Router? You are already using one! It is just one extra step to keep everything above that I’ve talked about from infecting your computer. If you have your Internet Modem connected directly to your computer? You are that much more vulnerable to having your computer infected. It is relatively inexpensive to purchase a device such as this. My suggestion for a cheap solution is the Linksys WRT54G model. It is old sure – but it works!
Smart Browsing Habits
This probably the easiest. Just don’t visit websites that you don’t know if they are malicious or not. Some examples are sites offering cheat codes, or software serial numbers, and definitely those stating they are offering free mainstream software/games/movies etc.
The other thing is that you should clear out your cookies and temp files religiously. Its annoying I know but your computer will thank you in the long run (And spyware/adware creators will hate you!)
Smart Email Habits
This one is pretty simple. Follow the best practices below for your email and you should be relatively safe from getting infected through email.
First – don’t click on anything you don’t understand when it comes to attachments. Especially if you can see the file extension and it ends in a *.exe, .vbf, scr. If you weren’t expecting it or you don’t recognize it? DELETE IT. Remember email can always be re-sent in a few seconds. A Virus can take hours or longer to remove.
If you are using Microsoft’s Outlook? Even though Microsoft states they had fixed a vulnerability that allowed a computer to get infected just by previewing an email – I don’t trust it. Turn off the preview pane in Microsoft Outlook. To turn it off – you go to View -> Reading Pane -> OFF
Keep Your Computer Safe!
As you can see it is fairly simple to avoid getting your computer infected with either viruses or spyware if you take a few simple steps. Let me know your tips, tools, and what you do to protect yourself in the comments below!
Update: With Windows 10 and its built in Windows Defender and a decent router. You can be fairly safe on the internet. Third Party Anti-Virus is slowly going the way of the do-do bird. I still us Avast just more out of habit than anything. Just wanted to update the article with this tidbit of information at the end here.