Thursday, February 25, 2010

How to Out-Think the Hackers and Avoid Viruses

More and more, we are seeing people who have serious infestations of viruses, worms, spyware, and malware and who have active, updated, top dollar anti-virus software on their computers. This is a serious, expensive repair, and more importantly it exposes computer users to identity theft as well! They ask a very good question: "how can I get a virus if I have anti-virus software?"
The truth is that today computer users need to be much more vigilent in arming their minds in a way to watch for and avoid all of the threats out there. According to Symantec, 15,000 new viruses and threats are released EVERY DAY. This provides an excellent opportunity for me to remind you that your anti-virus software needs to automatically update itself on an ongoing basis, so that as these 15,000 new viruses are discovered each day, your computer will be protected.
However, even with these updates, it is not enough. Anti-Virus Software is sort of like taking vitamins. They absolutely help you keep from getting sick, but if you walk in the rain, or don't get enough sleep, or expose yourself to someone else who may be sick, then the vitamins won't prevent you from getting sick.
So, I am sure you are wondering "what is the tech equilivent of walking in the rain?" The truth is, it is a lot of things, but most of them fall under some basic principles that everyone should be practicing every time they go on the internet or check their email.
1. Be paranoid. Be suspicious of everything. If what really looks like your antivirus pops-up and says "scan now" or "you are about to expire" or "OMG you are infected by a zillion viruses" or starts counting infected files, DO NOT CLICK ON IT. Do not roll over it, do not close it on the little red X, or click on "no thanks" or "fix now". DO NOT CLICK ON IT. As a matter of fact, try not to even look at it because it will make you go blind. (not really) If you don't know how to close a window without clicking on it, use the task manager to close it. After the monster is off of your screen, manually open your antivirus and see if it really was your antivirus, and if so, what did they want? If your anti-virus doesn't want anything, do a full system scan because you have been in the presence of a bad guy.
Fake antivirus scans are one of the best ways to get infected these days. Some poor souls even give them their credit cards and pay them to infect their computers and steal their identites!
2. Be paranoid. If you open a website and a pop-up comes up and says you need to upload Flash, or Java, or whatever--DO NOT CLICK ON IT! (are you seeing a pattern?) Close the pop-up without touching it via task bar or task manager, and go to the Adobe website and try to load Flash there. There is a new virus out right now that is asking people to load fake Flash updates.
3. You need to develop pristine habits, almost like "computer hygiene" or something. It is almost like practicing safe....well you know what I mean, but we want you to have fun, but you have to learn some safe practices so it doesn't kill you. Make the habit of pulling your curser off to the side after you click a link so that you don't accidentally roll over some ad that will make your computer miserable. Remember that roll over activation is a valid way to get infected! When you search the internet, carefully examine the results and see that the web address is the right one, or that what you searched is not just inserted into some random words. Also rememeber what your mother taught you--stay away from online porn, gambling, beware of ANYTHING free--just common sense things apply to the internet. These three areas are some of the most common ways of infestation. Do not expose your computer to sick computers via file sharing, like free music, etc. Whenever you get free music this way, you are also getting the viruses on the other person's computer--and they are NOT free. Pay for your music--it is a lot cheaper.
4. Emails. Don't get me started. Be Suspicious. You just cannot open those forwarded emails, you know, the ones that say Fw or Fw Fw in front of the subject. Although it is really tempting to see those cute pictures of puppies or something, it will cost you money in the long run when those puppies infect your computer! Also, NEVER click links in emails or fall for those email scams that tell you that your bank needs information etc. In fact, be suspicious of ANYTHING that sounds urgent. One of the most common ways people get scammed is to open a virused email that came from someone you know. Scammers steal address books all of the time and send troubles to everyone on their list. If your good friend sends you an urgent request for money--DON'T CLICK ON IT! (Unless your good friend does this all of the time anyway...) Call your friend and ask them if they sent it.
4. Videos. Be Suspicious. YouTube is full of viruses. Now that doesn't mean to never look at a video--we know you are going to do that, but it means that if you watch a lot of videos, you may end up with a virus at some point.
5. Back up and scan your data for viruses and keep it somewhere safe. It will save you money if you DO get a virus later, and possibly even keep you from loosing it.
Once you adopt some simple habits, you will reduce your liklihood of getting an infestation. Back to the anti-virus--this is an absolute MUST these days. If you can't afford the good stuff, get free antivirus at the least. Now that you are all enthused about getting on your computer--HAVE FUN! Seriously.

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