How to protect your computer from viruses

How many times have you been pestered with viruses, spywares, bad cookies and all sort of malware? How many times have you lost your important documents and pictures, because you clicked on a little file you got in your e-mail client? How many times have your computer stopped working normally after you visited a web-site? If your reply is “a lot of times” or “sometimes” then this guide is for you. There are lots of ways when surfing on the web or when working on your computer to get a virus but, let me tell you frankly, if you get something harmful, most of the times it depends on you, but at the same time it is not your fault. It only means that you have not been educated or trained adequately on how to behave safely while working with your hyper-technological PC. Keep in mind that it is because of this lack of knowledge I am talking about that viruses still continue to spread all over the world costing damages worth millions of dollars. If your company has always taught you how to use operative systems and programs such as: Microsoft Vista or XP, Linux Microsoft Office, Open Office and other programs to edit documents, pictures etc, but it has never taught you about antivirus, antispyware etc. it means that your boss, who should be your educator, has behaved in a wrong way, has been a bad teacher hurting you and his own interests. How much money and time your company or your school could have saved if it just taught you that you were not supposed to click on the little file named “hello.exe” attached to an email and that made your PC turn off , deleting all files with .doc extension automatically? I don’t want to criticize anybody, but companies and schools think more about productivity than education and security, giving you just infos you are supposed to know to work. Nothing more, nothing less to fill up that knowledge gap that could prevent you from clicking on that famous “hello.exe” file. So let’s start this little guide with the assumption that all you know about Internet safety is zero, but with some tips you can put yourself in a condition of supremacy and avoid 99% of Internet threats without losing the joy to surf the web or working in the way you like.

Rule First: Be safe. Don’t click!

Reading from Wikipedia: “A computer virus is a computer program that can copy itself and infect a computer without permission or knowledge of the user.”, “…Some viruses are programmed to damage the computer by damaging programs, deleting files, or reformatting the hard disk.”. Did you read what Wikipedia write? A virus is a program, so when you have to deal with one of them don’t put yourself in a position of inferiority. Don’t think: “Hey, it’s a virus. It is smarter than me”. It is exactly the other way-around. Since a virus or another kind of malware is a piece of software, you have to think about it as something really dumb, doing something it has been programmed to do such as: deleting, formatting, changing etc. And since it is a program you have also to think of the only way to let it work is to activate it in some way. So here we have a rule we have to keep in mind: Don’t click on anything you don’t know. This is the most powerful advice this guide can give you. More powerful than the most sophisticated antivirus and more cleaver than any computer engineer.

Rule Second: Recognize threats on your e-mails at glance

Viruses and spywares spread on the Internet after growing in the PCs. When they are ready and have made enough damages in a machine, they try to leave it to infect another one. To do that they usually steal all e-mail addresses found on the host computer. E-mail addresses are found on the lists contained in the e-mail clients such as: Windows Mail, Windows Outlook, Eudora etc. At this point they send themselves by email as attachments. Virus creators try to make their viruses appealing or just conceal it into something else. Sometimes instead they leave them as they are. Anyway if you get an e-mail with an attachment having these features refer to the first rule:

  • Be careful of files having these extensions: .EXE, .BAT, .COM. For sure they are virus. These extensions can be mingled with other ones to trick you into thinking they are safe files. Here are a couple of examples: sunshine.mp3.bat, picture12.jpeg.exe, funnymovie.divx.com
  • Other times viruses conceal themselves to deceive you, so even files having these extensions can be viruses: .MP3, .MPEG, .JPEG, .JPG, .PDF, .DOC, .DVI, .HTML . So how to recognize a picture sent by a friend of yours from a masked virus? There are no rule for this, but generally speaking be suspicious about those e-mails coming from your friends and whose subjects are silly or with no sense. Viruses are rather stupid and when they send themselves don’t pay a lot of attention to what they write. They don’t have a lot of fantasy. So when you get an e-mail with a subject that looks like one of these examples refer to the first rule: Funny pictures, You won a price, Hey it is me, Open right now, RE: (and here there could be something that makes no sense to you), Your account at …… has been suspended, Hoax, Sexy pics, Sex (and sex related topics), Read and pass on… etc. The list here could be very big. As a general rule when you get an e-mail which sound weird, probably it is, so don’t click it nor open any attachment. If a suspicious e-mail was sent from a friend of yours, send him another e-mail asking information or just call him. Is your computer safety worth a phone call? I think so.
  • Be careful of e-mails from unknown people. As a general rule don’t open them if their object makes no sense to you.
  • Be careful of e-mails apparently coming from trusted company, banks, websites etc. If the e-mail address is something like: support@mastercardz.cz, information@citibankk.ro, customerpurchase@bestbuyy.ru don’t open it and trash it right away. If you are unsure about an e-mail address go to McAfee site advisor and see if the site it comes from is secure.
  • Be careful of e-mails containing html codes or with embedded web pages. These particular e-mails don’t have attachments but once you open them, since they contain an embedded code, they could start downloading a virus. As a general rule disable html-support from your e-mail client or webmail.

Rule Third: Read your e-mails in a secure way

Generally speaking software that connects your computer to the Internet is a possible vehicle for viruses and all kind of threats. Despite the fact that today e-mail clients have improved dramatically, I don’t like the idea of something managing my incoming e-mails. No matter how many filters it applies to select a good e-mail from a bad one. Sooner or later somebody will find a bug or a workaround to skip a filter. The next thing you know is that a virus will be downloaded into your PC with no way to control it. I always avoid e-mail clients. I always use webmail. I mean, if I want to check my e-mails I go to my Gmail or Yahoo account and I read them directly from the web. Yahoo mail is provided with an excellent spam and virus filter so before you download an attachment into your computer it checks the file automatically. Anyway even other webmails have automated virus filters even though you don’t see them. If you really want to use a software, I advice you to use those programs giving a preview of your e-mails without downloading anything. How is it possible? Simple, they just peer into the web-server and download those information that are important for you to understand what the e-mail is about. Other things such a: attachments, the whole mail body etc. are left in the server, ready to be fetched upon request. Here is the link to Magic Mail Monitor that is a really good e-mail preview software, plus it comes for free.

Rule Fourth: Surf wisely

Well, we have seen how viruses spread, what they look like and how to be safe when we read our daily e-mails. Sadly for us there other ways we can get a virus. The good news is that they all have to do with the way we surf Internet. Surfing the web is not easy at all. Like the ocean there are a lot of places that are really dangerous even though they seem to be perfectly safe. The fact that we do it daily with no second thought is another proof about how little we know and how badly we have been educated about PC safety. A serious problem is also represented by what we use to surf. All browsers are not alike and instead of looking for shiny, eye-candy features we should look for security. A browser is a program, do you remember what I said above? This particular software connects our PC to the Internet. For this reason it is dangerous and could cause us some malevolent malware. Since this software is essential to surf we have to be smart when pick it up. My choice is Firefox without any doubts. Secure, stable, simple to use, few bugs, free, it warns you when a new update is available and supported by a strong helping community. These are just a few reasons why I like it. If you want you can download it here.

Of course having a good board doesn’t mean anything if you go surfing to a part of the ocean full of sharks. Here is where you shouldn’t go and what you shouldn’t do:

  • Don’t surf porn. Come on. You are grown enough, right? Avoid porn web-sites since some of them, once opened in your browser, can send you spyware, viruses and other malware, without speaking about the chance they have to steal your personal information. Stay way from them. By the way, most of the times when they download malware on your PC you are not aware of it. They don’t ask you to click anything. In this case you already infringed the rule Don’t click on anything you don’t know when you went to the site itself. As a matter of fact these sites use bugs on your browser to insert malicious files silently. Without knowing you are already cooked.
  • If you open a web site and a window appears right away telling you to download a software, don’t do it! Before clicking “OK” read what the window says and look at the program it wants you to download. If the program is called: Java, Flash, Shockwave you can download it (maybe with the exception of Java, read below) otherwise if you don’t feel secure about the request, just close the browser and start surfing again. Sometimes you can not do it because the web-site wants to force you to do something. If so, it is trying to make you downlaod something armful. To force the closing of the browser press: Control-Alt-Canc, click on Task Manager, look for your browser name on the window that has just appeared, click on it and click End-Process at the bottom of the window.
  • I know you like playing on the Internet. There are lots of armless sites full of games out there, but some of them may want you to downlaod a piece of software called JAVA. Let me tell you right away that this software is not harmful for your computer. Some web sites or programs on your computer need it to work. The threat doesn’t come from this application, but from some malicious web site that may use it to put into your JAVA cache directory spyware, trojans and other pestware. If you don’t need JAVA I advice you not to download it or uninstall it. If you want to play on the Internet you can use those websites that don’t use this application for its games such as: Shockwave.com , Crazymonkeygames.com , Flashgames247.com

Rule Fifth: Be always ready to fight.

Antivirus and antispyware, do I need them? Sure you do! Even though you followed my advices there are still some chance to get a virus. So, why should you stay away from protection? There are a lot of software promising us to shield our PC from everything. Anyway this is what you are looking for:

  1. A free software (why do you have to pay for something you can find for free on the Internet and doing the exact same things as the expensive ones?)
  2. A light software (you don’t want it to slow my computer down)
  3. Regularly free update (this is crucial. Viruses grows at a fast pace. That’s why you need a good update service)
  4. Heuristic provided( heuristic is a feature that allows an antivirus to spot a virus on certain characteristic, and long before and update for that specific threat has been released)
  5. Simple to use (you don’t want to spend hours to tweak it. You just want it to work out of the box)
  6. Compatible with your operative system (you don’t want my antivirus to crash while it is performing a complete scan of your system and believe me, this is not a remote event)

The ideal solution is to have two software installed on our PC. The first shielding from viruses and the second shielding from spywares. The best solution is to have a software having both these features.

My choices for antivirus are:

  1. AVG Free Antivirus (which is an excellent antivirus and antispyware and this is what I have on my PC)
  2. Clamwin Antivirus
  3. Avast Home Edition

My choices for antispyware are:

  1. AVG Anti-Spyware
  2. Ad-Aware
  3. SpyBot Search&Destroy

A full description of these programs can be found on their web-sites. Forgive me if I didn’t provide any information about them on this page, but I am talking about the ways to protect your computer. I am not doing a review.

Once you buy a computer you must install these software right away. You may also choose not to install any software and just use online virus scanners, but this is not an optimal solution. Online antivirus just scan your computer or files and don’t give you any real-time protection. Basically once you choose to scan your system with them, it could be already too late. Antivirus and Antispyware are an excellent solution to be always protected, but you have to be wise about the way you use them. In fact, it is not sufficient to have them on your computer if you don’t use them properly. So with these powerful software perform the following actions:

  • Scan your computer regularly. Antiviruses and antispyware have options to run a complete or partial scanning of your system. Do it once very two weeks at least. Alternatively you can also choose to schedule a complete scanning in an automatic way. The schedule option is available on most of these software.
  • If you don’t feel completely secure about a file, scan it. If you right-click on a file, a menu should appear. Among its options there should be one letting you scan whatever you want.
  • Scan other people’s USB flash drives. Lately a new generation of viruses has appeared. These new viruses, once they infect a computer, hide inside USB flash drives (if they find one plugged) putting themselves into a stand-by mode, ready to infect another machine once they get a chance.
  • Scan floppy disks. These data storage are disappearing because of the new USB flash drives which are provided with more memory. Anyway many people still use them. Again, scan them before reading any file inside, above all if you don’t know where they are coming from.

The guide is over. Of course it doesn’t guarantee you that you won’t take any “computer cold” but it lets you avoid a lot of the most common mistakes people do when they are before their PC. Remember, most of the times what happen to us or our devices is the result of our behavior. Behave wisely, smartly and a little suspiciously and everything should be fine. Happy surfing and have a good day at work!


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