People ask me how they got the viruses that I just cleaned off their computer. I usually cannot tell them what caused the previous infection but I can suggest how to proceed safely going forward. I point out all the security software that needs to be updated and running on their computer. I also point out the very important need to develop safe Internet browsing habits. These habits are just as important as the security software I install. Here are some rules of thumb concerning safe Internet browsing.
BE WARY OF EMAIL ATTACHMENTS
One way viruses spread themselves from computer to computer is through email attachments. The best practice to follow is to delete email attachments from unknown sources. If you do know who sent it then you should scan it for viruses before opening it. Someone you know might have a computer virus and his address book has been compromised. In that case the virus has sent itself to everyone in the address book and it appears to have come from a known person. Good anti-virus programs scan emails as they come in and when they are opened. If you are not sure your anti-virus does that then save the attachment to your desktop and scan it using your anti-virus program.
ONLY INSTALL SOFTWARE YOU TRUST
There is a lot of free software on the Internet. Some of it does more than advertised. Do not install anything that you have not taken the time to understand. Avoid search tool bars. These are often spyware. When you find a program that you want and you have taken the time to understand and trust it you may still need to be careful. During the install, there might be a little check box you need to uncheck or it will also install a third party toolbar.
BE CAREFUL WHO USES YOUR COMPUTER
When someone else uses your computer they may not use safe browsing habits. Your niece may want to install something that looks fun but also has a spyware component to it. Your best efforts in keeping your computer safe can be ruined by someone else on the PC for 10 minutes.
STAY AWAY FROM PEER-TO-PEER SOFTWARE
Examples of peer-to-peer software are Kazaa, Napster, LimeWire and BitTorrent. These allow people on the Internet to share movies, songs, games, etc. This technology can be used purposely to distribute Malware. They are also inherently insecure because they allow people to access software on your PC and you to access software on other PCs. You don’t know how secure the other PC is.
CONSIDER USING A DIFFERENT WEB BROWSER
Most people use Microsoft Internet Explorer to browse the Internet. It is a full-featured web browser supplied with Windows operating systems and it is free. The fact that so many people use it makes it a good target for those who create Malware. I don’t think other web browsers are really better but they are less of a target. The most popular alternative for Internet Explorer is Mozilla’s Firefox. Firefox will provide you with a very similar browsing experience to Internet Explorer. Other alternatives are Opera and Google Chrome. These browsers are small and lean so they provide speed but sometimes you will need to install an add-on to make things work the way you are accustomed to. There is something to remember when using a web browser other than Internet Explorer. It is still important to keep Internet Explorer updated to the latest version with the latest patches. It is integrated into the Windows operating system and allowing it to become out of date can be a security risk. The thing to do is keep it current but make the alternative browser your default web browser.
Use common sense. If something looks wrong stay away. Keep your computer updated with security updates and run current anti-virus software. Keep regular backups of your PC. Malware can destroy data or make your PC unbootable. And finally – after all the scary stuff I just wrote – take the precautions I mention but then enjoy yourself. The Internet should not intimidate you. You can have fun and be productive with your PC and the Internet.