It’s happened to the best of us. You’re innocently going about your business, perhaps opening an email attachment or downloading a file from the Internet, and then BOOM! your computer goes berserk and shuts down. Then, with horror, you realize you’ve inadvertently invited malware or a virus to take up residence in your hard drive. It’s more than annoying; it can be catastrophic, so here are some tips to help you avoid such a disaster and keep your computer alive as long as possible.
Malware and Viruses
Before we talk about how you can avoid getting malware and viruses on your computer, let’s first talk about what they actually are. Malware is really an umbrella term that is used to describe a whole litany of damaging, unwanted, or malicious software, including viruses, worms, Trojan horses, adware, and spyware. A virus, however, is a specific type of malware that is designed to replicate and spread once in your computer–just like how viruses replicate in humans. Now that that’s sorted, let’s dive in to what you should and shouldn’t do to protect the integrity of your computer.
Smart Online Behaviour
In a nutshell, to prevent malware from destroying your computer and everything on it, you just need to be smart when you’re online. I mean, think about it … you wouldn’t just grab a DVD from a stranger on the street because he whispers to you that it’s great and then go and pop it in your laptop, would you? Yet, when we’re online, we tend to trust everything and everyone we encounter. I’ve definitely been at fault in that arena and have downloaded some online content that perhaps I should have thought twice about (get your mind out of the gutter, I’m talking about music and movies). You need to be vigilant, a little jaded, and assume the worst. In other words, be smart
- Install Anti-Virus/Malware Software
If you don’t want to get the flu, you get a flu shot. And that rationale remains true for avoiding viruses on your computer–if you don’t want one, install software whose intent is to beat viruses down before they have a chance to cause any damage. However, just installing that software isn’t the be all and end all. You have to make sure you keep that software updated so it’s ready to fight at any given moment.
- Run Scans
If you’ve installed some anti-virus/malware software and are keeping it up to date, the next thing you need to do is acknowledge those annoying alerts and prompts you get that tell you that you need to run a scan. That is your software telling you “hey, I’m here, let me do my job please” so (let’s be honest) as annoying as those alerts are, listen to them and let the software do it’s work.
- Keep Your Operating System Up-to-Date
Another annoying prompt I get on my laptop is to update my operating system. I feel like I’m always seeing that prompt, yet it likely pops up less than twice a year, and regardless it is something to pay attention to. Whether you are running Windows or Mac OS X, keeping your operating system up-to-date goes a long way to avoiding unwanted malware.
- Be Wary of Open Wi-Fi
To be honest, typing that heading gave me heart palpitations, because I am always trying to get on Wi-Fi, regardless of where it’s from, but as it turns out, when you tap into a network that doesn’t require a password, you are really opening yourself up for malware. The rule of thumb is that if it doesn’t require a password don’t use it! If you’re working at a coffee shop, restaurant or pub, don’t try to get online with their “Guest Network” and ask your server or bartender for their network password.
- If It’s Too Good To Be True It Probably Is
If you stumble across a “free” version of an expensive software program, or think that a website full of pirated material looks legit, think twice before you click anything. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is … and whatever it is, it’s probably chomping at the bit to infiltrate your computer. Similarly, if you click on a link and it keeps opening up other pages in your web browser, or requires you to continually click until you don’t even know what website you’re on, abort! Just call it a day.
- Think Before You Click
If you’re ever unsure of a file available for download on a website or an attachment in your email, just abort the mission by closing the browser or deleting the email. I hate to tell you this, but no one is going to send you an email saying that you have inherited three million dollars, nor is anything in life free. It’s sad, I know, but this is what these malware creators do … they prey on our naivety when it comes to the online world, so think before you click on anything.
This might be the best piece of advice I was ever given–hover over a link before you click on it. You might receive an email from your financial institution that sounds 100% legit. It might even say: “Click here to update your information” so you think it’s ok to click. However, if you hover over that link and it has a whole bunch of random letters, or references a website you’ve never heard of, don’t click on it! If it really was your bank contacting you, you’d see their website URL when you hover. You need to know where the URL is taking you before you click.
- Back It Up!
I’ve been the victim of a virus that deleted three years worth of files on my laptop and it was horrible. Since then, I back everything up on the cloud, and on an external hard drive. I typically do the back up once a month, but honestly, weekly isn’t a bad idea since you never know when malware might make its presence known.
- Say No to Pop Up Windows
If you’re ever tempted to click on a popup window, take a look at tip number 5 above. A lot of those “too good to be true” pop ups are just itching to get your info an make a mess of your computer, so unless the popup is from a reputable company offering you a discount on the items your have in your shopping cart, just say no!
- Don’t Be a Mac Snob
As a Mac girl, when I was first assigned this task I thought I could write it in one sentence: “Don’t want viruses? Then buy a Mac” but as it turns out, while Macs are less susceptible to malware, they are not immune. So, the rules apply for you all fellow Mac users out there. Don’t ever think that because you have a lovely silver MacBook Pro that you’re immune to the horror of viruses.
Keeping yourself safe from malware and viruses comes down to making smart decisions in your dealings online. If you ever think something is too good to be true, it probably is. If you aren’t sure where an email came from, don’t open it. If you think you’re immune, think differently. There are far too many people out there who want nothing more that to turn your computer into a puddle of unusable material. So when you’re online, be smart people!
By Stacey McGregor, Technology & Lifestyle
Stacey McGregor is a marketing and communications professional based in Vancouver, BC. During the day, she works as Marketing & Business Development Manager for Vancity Credit Union … by night she writes, designs, builds WordPress websites, and fights crime.