Previously, I discussed what malware is and how prevalent it has become in the computer environment.  I also identified ways you can determine if your computer system shows signs of being infected with some sort of malware.  This week I will talk about how can you protect yourself, using common sense, proactive actions, from these malicious programs.

Common Sense Malware Protection Actions

Antivirus/Anti-malware Software:  First, everyone should have some sort of antivirus/anti-malware software installed.  I don’t care if you are running Microsoft, Linux (including Ubuntu, Mint or any one of the other “flavors”), Apple, Chrome, Android, or some other obscure Operating System like ReactOS or Syllable, there is malicious programs out there targeted at your system.  PERIOD!  With regard to antivirus/anti-malware programs, I am not going to preach one program over another, as there are hundreds offered.  The more common programs include Avast, AVG, BitDefender, Kaspersky, McAfee, Microsoft, Norton, Symantec and Webroot.  They each offer decent protection and different sets of features, so please do your homework and get one.

Don’t forget, your smartphone/tablet is nothing more than a portable computer and is running one of the above mentioned operating systems as well.  While less frequent, infections of smartphones are on the increase.  Therefore, you should also consider getting something for your mobile devices as well.

Where you Surf:  If you spend a lot of time on the computer or mobile device, you also likely visit tons of different website.  To reduce the chance of malware infection you should only visit trusted/reputable websites and reduce your use of links embedded in a webpage, email or text message.  In addition, you should avoid clicking on “pop-up” windows and any “clickable” graphics.  These can easily contain malicious code and infect your system.

If you unexpectedly receive an email from a recognized address, don’t assume the person who owns that email address actually sent you the email.  It is very easy to spoof an email address.  In addition, with the number of stolen passwords and user names increasing year by year, the account that sent the email may have been hacked and malicious emails distributed.  Call the person and verify s/he sent the email.

The safest way to surf the web is to type the address directly into the browser rather than follow an embedded link from a webpage.  If you are in a website and there is a link to another site you want to visit, simply hold your cursor over the link and your browser should display the full link.  Open a new tab or new browser windows and enter the address you identified.  More work, but much safer.

Avoid “Phishing” Scams:  Phishing scams are typically malicious programs or websites that pretend to be from legitimate companies (and look remarkably legit), but request you to enter personal information once you click on the provided link or open an attachment.  Remember, most reputable companies will not send an email with embedded links or attachment asking for you to verify your personal data.  These reputable companies may request that you to visit their website, login and verify certain information, but these communications most often will not contain a web link.  Remember, if you ever have a question about an unexpected email you get, simply pick up the phone and call the sender.  Better safer than sorry.

Update your Browser Program:  While this can take time, often require a reboot and sometime just not work well, it is an evil necessity in today’s computing environment.  Many of the updates/patches being rolled out today are to improve the security of the program and not just to add or improve features.  Failure to update your browser leaves your system vulnerable to attack and easier for the bad guys to get your data.

Public Wi-Fi Hotspots:  Avoid public Wi-Fi hotspots whenever possible.  I understand they are very convenient and that while drinking that cup of your favorite coffee it sure would be nice to log in and check your bank balance.  DON’T DO IT!  Cybercriminals often use programs called “sniffers” to intercept wireless traffic at unprotected public wireless hotspots.

There is so much to love about the Internet and yet the Internet is a very dangerous environment.  The best protection is to be proactive and take steps, as described above, to reduce the likelihood of your computer being infected by malware.  These actions will do a very good job in helping your computer stay clean, but there is more you can do.  Next week I will discuss these additional steps, but please note, they are a tad bit more sophisticated.

For more information regarding secure Internet surfing or for other questions related to security and computing networks feel free to contact Reedy Creek Enterprise Solutions to start a conversation.