By now, you’ve likely heard your fair share of malware horror stories — or even experienced a few yourself. Malware runs the gamut from annoying pop-up ads and sluggish performance due to stealthy and unwanted programs using your computer’s resources to deleted files, account takeovers, identity theft, ransomware, and more. Solving a malware problem is almost always time-consuming and costly. Prevention, as the saying goes, is the best medicine. Use the tips below to prevent malware from harming your PC.
This is a must, and your first line of defense. You’d be surprised, however, how many computer users do not install this fundamental computer security software — or how many users are duped into installing dubious antivirus software after seeing a popup window warning them of a threat. Once you’ve installed antivirus software from a reputable source, make sure it to set it up to block threats in real-time and receive updates as soon as they are released. While real-time threat blocking is good, you should also use the software to perform regular deep scans.
Many threats arrive in your inbox, many of which look completely legitimate. These messages may appear to be from your bank with a helpful link for you to use to sign in and view the latest security alerts or a .zip file containing your bank statement. Familiar logos and URLs make the message look authentic, yet when you click the link or open the file, you could be activating malware! A good anti-spam solution will identify and block “phishing” attempts and other spam messages.
Make sure that all of your computer security software is current. New malware and variants are released all the time, making it necessary for computer security software developers to update their software to block the new threats. If you don’t have the latest protection, your computer could still be vulnerable.
Likewise, your computer’s operating system could make your PC vulnerable to threats. As new exploits are discovered, operating system developers create “patches” to fix them. If you don’t apply the latest updates, your computer won’t have the latest protection. This is true for both Windows and Mac computers (and other operating systems).
Because malware can delete files, or worse, encrypt your entire computer effectively blocking you from retrieving any of your files unless you pay a hefty ransom, backing up your data has become more important than ever. It’s best to have at least two separate backups with one located off-site in case of fire, physical theft, or some other calamity.
Wi-Fi networks must also be secured from hackers. Start by switching to either WPA or WPA2 encryption and set up a strong, hard-to-guess password. Make sure to turn off SSID broadcasting as well.
It’s best to avoid using public Wi-Fi in the first place. Not only is it easy for you to log on and use the public Wi-Fi, the same is true of hackers — and your device will be connected. If you must use a public hotspot, use only those that are encrypted and require a password which is usually given to paid customers only and changed daily. Even then, be careful not to access online banking or transmit other sensitive information.
Always use strong, hard-to-guess passwords, taking care to use different ones for each account you have. You’ll also want to change them frequently. Because it’s hard to remember this type of password, let alone many of them, it’s smart to invest in a good password manager.
What type of information are you putting out there on social media, community forums, and message boards? Hackers and identity thieves often gain crucial information from the info that you willingly put out there for all to see.
Even with computer security software installed, be careful what you click in case something slips past your first defenses. That invoice.zip file from a shipping company, for example, might not be real. Think before you click anything. Are you expecting a message with an attachment? Is this normal behavior for that contact? Verify before opening anything unexpected. If a message contains a link, hover over the link with your mouse to view the actual URL the link points to.
Keeping your PC safe from harm requires both good computer security software and a proactive approach. The more you know about malware and the tactics used to install it on your computer, the better you will be able to prevent it.