The development of the Internet has opened up new worlds and opportunities for us that just a few decades ago, would have been difficult to imagine. However, the downside of being so heavily connected to others around the world is that we´re also connecting to individuals with bad intentions. Criminals are working hard to steal our precious data and personal information, luring unsuspecting victims with enticing links that conceal viruses and other malware. This article discusses how to avoid these deceitful tactics, what to look for and what to do if your computer does get compromised.
In today’s world, there is scarcely a home anywhere that does not have at least one working computer that can access the Internet.For most of us, computers are such a big part of our lives that we use them for both work and recreation. However, along with the many good things computers can do for us, surfing the web makes us vulnerable to viruses and other types of malware that can be used to steal our valuable personal information. Often they hide behind enticing links that are used to lure unsuspecting users into downloading them inadvertently. As it stands right now, a user’s best line of defense is often just knowing how to spot suspicious links and what potential traps to avoid.
How to Avoid Being an Easy Target for Viruses
Just to be clear, the only way you can completely avoid being targeted is not to get online at all, because viruses can hide out anywhere and every computer is a potential target. However, avoiding the Internet altogether is not a practical solution for most people, so the next best thing is to avoid being an easy target and installing the proper security software to protect yourself from the occasional threat.
The three main types of security software you need are a good anti-virus program, an anti-spyware program and a firewall to protect your system from getting hacked while you’re online. You can find free versions of these, many of which work quite well and offer constant updates as new threats are discovered. However, it never hurts to purchase the full versions and get any extras they might have to offer, such as link scanners, identity theft protection and parental controls.
Another way to avoid being an easy target is to be very careful where you browse online and which types of sites you choose to visit. Although any website can potentially harbor dangerous threats (often disguised as harmless-looking ads), the places you’re most likely to encounter them are on sites that offer pornographic content and gambling sites. Avoid visiting these riskier sites as much as possible and you will significantly reduce your chances of catching a virus.
Additionally, be aware of where your email is coming from. Some of the worst computer viruses of all time were spread this way and it continues to be an open gateway for viruses to cover vast distances very quickly. Be wary of attachments and suspicious links, especially if you’re not familiar with the sender and remember that the safest option is to scan them all with your anti-virus software. Also, be sure to change your email settings, so that attachments are not opened automatically.
How to Spot Suspicious Links
First of all, a link scanner can save you lots of trouble. Some can be found on websites, whereas others come as plug-ins, where you can insert any suspicious URL and have a security report on the site sent back to you almost immediately. Even without a link scanner, it’s always a good idea to use your mouse to hover over a suspicious URL (without actually clicking on it), to make sure that the actual URL that shows up in the lower corner of your browser corresponds to the name in the link. You can also do this with email senders as well, to make sure they match.
Remember that unsafe links can take many forms, from a link to an awesome deal on an expensive item, to a funny video, shocking news story, or even a “Like” button. They can also be innocently passed along in an instant message or social media post, from one unsuspecting friend to another. If you’re not careful where you click, your computer can be hijacked and your information stolen by someone who’s up to no good.
What to Do if Your Computer Gets Infected
Even taking every possible precaution, it’s still possible for a virus to sneak through and infect your computer. If you suspect that you may have caught one, the first thing you should do is disconnect from the Internet, to minimize the possibility that your information is being sent to a third party. Your data should already be backed up, but if it is not, be sure to back it up to an external drive or flash drive as quickly as possible.
At this point you need to run full scans with your anti-virus and anti-spyware software, first making sure that their definitions are up-to-date. Scan everything, including all removable media that may have also gotten infected and check your files afterward, to ensure they were not corrupted to the point where they can no longer be retrieved. If this happens, you may have to contact a data recovery service for assistance in retrieving your damaged data.
Once again, there’s no way to absolutely guarantee that your computer will never catch a virus, however you can significantly reduce the risk. Be conscious of what’s in your inbox and where it’s from, taking special care to avoid seedy websites and clicking on any offers that seem too good to be true. Make sure you have the latest versions of reputable security software installed and up-to-date, so that even if something gets past your wary eyes, you will have the tools available to take care of the problem and minimize any damage.