9 Computer Safety Tips: How to Prevent Viruses, Malware

Protect your PC with Firewalls, Security Patches, and More

Laptop and padlock. Concept of computer security./Computer security

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Protect your computer from online threats to avoid problems that are associated with viruses, malware, worms, and other harmful content. Follow these steps to provide security, keep your computer in good running order, and safeguard your personal information.

Use Antivirus Software and Keep It Up-To-Date

Install antivirus software and spyware scanners that look for viruses, malware, and other malicious content. These apps scan your computer, emails, and downloaded files. Most antivirus software can be configured to scan files automatically and to check for new definition updates daily.

Install Security Patches

New software vulnerabilities are constantly discovered. These vulnerabilities occur in software apps and hardware devices. Hackers take advantage of these vulnerabilities to gain access to your computer and data.

To avoid these vulnerabilities, keep your computer system updated. Use Windows Update to check for and apply updates to the operating system and associated files. Keep other software updated with a software inspector such as Secunia Software Inspector.

Use a Firewall

A firewall is a layer of protection between your computer and the internet. It acts as a barrier that monitors incoming data and uses security rules to determine whether or not that data is received by your computer. Windows operating systems ship with a built-in firewall that's turned on by default.

Do Not Provide Sensitive, Personal Information

Instead of providing your credit card information when you shop online, consider using a service such as PayPal. Your credit card and financial information are guarded on a single website, rather than on multiple sites.

Only provide Social Security or credit card numbers on secure websites. The URL for a secure site is prefaced with https:// (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure).

Be aware of sharing too much information on social media, as well. For example, don't supply your mother's maiden name or your address on a public Twitter account. Identity thieves and other criminals exploit social media to gather information.

Take Control of Your Email

Avoid opening unexpected email attachments no matter who appears to have sent it. Attackers spoof a sender’s name to fool people into opening attachments that collect their personal information and forward it to the attacker. 

Malicious content also hides in email messages that use HTML or Rich Text. Read email in plain text for added security.

Treat IMs Suspiciously

Instant Messaging is a frequent target of worms and Trojans. Scammers are constantly working on new ways to get your personal information and gain access to your personal accounts. Treat IMs just as you would email.

Use Strong Passwords

Use a variety of letters, numbers, and special characters — the longer and more complicated the better. Use different passwords for each account. If an account supports it, use two-factor authentication.

To manage all of these passwords, consider using a password manager application. Many web browsers, like Chrome and Opera, save passwords if this feature is enabled. Third-party apps such as LastPass act as browser plug-ins that monitor password entries and save credentials for each account. All you need to remember is the single password you created for the manager program.

Keep Abreast of Internet Scams

Don't open or click on links in emails that tell sad stories, make unsolicited job offers, or promise lotto winnings. Also, beware of emails that masquerade as security concerns from your bank or another eCommerce site. These emails may contain links to malicious content.

If you're not sure if an email from your bank or credit card company is legitimate, contact them directly.

Don't Fall Victim to Virus Hoaxes

There's more good than bad on the internet. The goal isn't to be paranoid. It's to be cautious, aware, and suspicious. By following the tips above and becoming actively engaged in your own security, you'll protect yourself and you'll also contribute to the protection of your family, friends, and co-workers on the internet.