Computer viruses and other forms of malicious software can spread extremely easily online, and most computer users have been effected at least once. While operating systems, other software and Web-based services are constantly getting better at identifying and getting rid of malware, hackers are also finding new and innovative ways to get into your computer to cause disruption, or worse, steal your personal and financial information. Getting into a few good habits and knowing how to spot the scams and other potential security threats will go a long way in keeping yourself protected. The following takes a look at some of the easiest ways in which malware spread through the Internet, ultimately getting onto your computer.
Not Installing Updates
Microsoft constantly releases updates for operating systems which are still supported. The most important updates are typically marked as ‘Critical’ in Windows Update, and this alone should be enough to tell you not to neglect downloading and installing them. Every so often, a new security flaw is discovered in Windows, as well as in a great deal of other software. Manufacturers quickly patch up these issues by releasing updates in the form of service packs or hotfixes. Operating systems in particular are extremely complex and extensive programs – they are never released in perfect form, and for this reason, they must be kept up-to-date. The same applies to mobile operating systems and software, which are also at risk of being infected by malicious software. Many novice users fail to install these essential updates. If you are in the habit of forgetting, or you simply don’t want to have to think about it all the time, ensure that your operating system is configured to download and install updates automatically.
Not Installing Antivirus Software
Alarmingly, many people do not run any antivirus software on their computers, and when using smartphones and other mobile devices, they often don’t even think about malicious software at all. However, simply having antivirus software installed and constantly running in the background on your computer is not enough by itself – you also need to keep it updated. While some of the more high-end antivirus suites can cost quite a lot of money and may even hog a substantial amount of system resources, the free solutions such as Microsoft Security Essentials provide adequate protection for most home users. Windows 8 comes with an improved version of Windows Defender built in. Shared computers and office computers are generally better off with a more sophisticated antivirus suite, however.
Installing Browser Plugins
While there are plenty of plugins available for most of the mainstream Web browsers which can increase functionality by adding useful new features, there are also plugins containing malicious software. Toolbars are a prime example – most browser toolbars are used for advertising purposes and provide nothing of use to the user while others might contain malicious software. Other plugins may also be harmful for your computer’s security. Before installing a plugin or even clicking on any browser dialog box, always make sure to read it thoroughly and that the site is a trustworthy one. If a popup or dialog box is claiming that your computer is infected, it is particularly important that you ignore it. This is simply rogue antivirus software attempting to dupe you into downloading or even purchasing malicious software.
Opening Email Attachments
Be particularly wary of email attachments sent from addresses that you don’t recognize or that you weren’t expecting. Pictures are usually fine, but files of other types such as documents and especially executable files and archives may contain malicious software. Even if the email is from a sender you know, the sender’s email account may have been hijacked in order to send malicious software and links to the emails in the person’s address book. The same also applies to links posted in instant messaging services, social networking sites and online forums.
Downloading Illegal Software
Sites such as torrent directories and ‘warez’ sites where people download pirated software and media are prime locations for malicious software. Any website which provides links to illegal software, or worse, actually hosts illegal software on their own servers, should be avoided. Not only is it illegal to download pirated software; the chances of getting your computer infected with malicious software increase immeasurably.
Phishing scams are on the rise, and they are among the most common ways that hackers dupe people into downloading malicious software or giving away private information. Fortunately, however, most of them tend to be quite obvious. There are likely multiple phishing emails in your spam inbox right now, although they also appear on websites, social networks and even instant messaging services. Phishing scams try to dupe users by masquerading as emails and websites from official-looking sources. Remember that no honest company will ever ask for account passwords, and anyone asking for financial information to be sent by email or instant message or claiming that you have won money in an email is almost certainly a scam.