I spend a lot time on the internet, and according to a recent study, you do too. We all know that surfing the web presents security risks, but we do it anyway – and do it a lot. There’s no getting around it; the web is just so darn useful. I’ve never actively done much when it comes to taking security measures, and somehow I got away with it for a long time. But after a recent brush with a virus on my home PC, I decided to educate myself on how to better protect myself.
Now, these steps won’t turn your computer into the Chuck Norris of virus protection, but they certainly won’t hurt to follow. They’re just a few simple tips I found helpful when safeguarding my own computer.
1. Install Antivirus Software
This seems like an obvious one, but believe it or not, I didn’t have any when I got the virus. You know that warning Norton gives you every 30 days saying your antivirus needs to be activated? There’s a reason they’re so insistent. Just because you don’t often see the program actively doing anything, it doesn’t mean that it’s not working hard in the background. Many browsers these days constantly have conversations with your antivirus software. Any time a download is queued up – with or without your knowledge – the browser double-checks with the antivirus that it doesn’t contain any harmful files.
Don’t think you have to pay a yearly subscription fee to get good protection, either; there are plenty of free antiviruses out there. Granted, some might excel over others at one aspect of protection but not another, so doubling-up is not a bad idea (they’re free, after all). Most of the programs should include a feature that schedules automatic weekly or monthly system checks that crawl through your entire hard drive (“set it, and forget it!” as Ron would say), so be sure to set that up.
Check out this site for reviews of some of the better free antivirus programs.
2. Use a Secure Browser
By that, I really mean that you should use Firefox, and always the latest version. It’s already the most commonly used browser today, but if you still need a reason to make the switch, the security benefits it offers should do the trick.
Firefox is one of those browsers I mentioned that talks to your antivirus. Its built-in malware protection is the same technology developed and used by Google. It keeps an eye on your plug-ins and disables them if they install or update insecurely. The list goes on.
Keep your computer and all of its software current with the latest patches and updates. Viruses often slip in through vulnerable areas of your software or operating system, and developers try to stay one step ahead by finding these holes and patching them before they’re exploited.
4. Keep an Eye Our for Anything Fishy
In the past, I’ve been pretty haphazard when it comes to clicking on links and downloading files, but that’s certainly not a model to follow. Our antivirus programs should have our back while we’re surfing insecure sites, but the risk is never worth it. The best antivirus is truly your own intuition.
Stick to reputable sites, especially when entering sensitive info such as credit card and Social Security numbers. (Firefox can help you with this, too. Just click on the favicon next to the address bar to get info on the site you’re visiting.) Stay away from downloading music and software illegally. Hackers love planting bugs in torrents because people willingly and blindly download them onto their computers, and the sites distributing them can’t be counted on to keep you safe.
Also, beware of emails from people you don’t know. Email is one of the most common ways for viruses to be spread, so always use your antivirus to scan any attachments before downloading them. Phishing scams also proliferate through email, so if your bank or anybody else asks you to enter sensitive info after clicking a link, make sure that link goes to where you think it should! Check the URL: firstbank.phishywebsite.com is NOT the same as firstbank.com, and even though the site visually looks the same, that doesn’t mean it is. Always make sure it’s a secure, encrypted site, too.
At the end of the day, what’s important is keeping your computer safe and your identity secure. The virus I got a few weeks ago was merely adware that was little more than an annoyance, but it could have been a lot worse. Help yourself out and set aside some time to build up your computer’s defenses. It’ll end up saving you a lot of time and worry in the long run.