For Seniors: Protect Your Laptop from Malware

Your laptop is similar to your car in terms of the need for safety. It comes with an operating system (such as Microsoft Windows) built in, and that operating system has security features. Sometimes new flaws or threats to that operating system emerge after it’s installed. You need to download and install regular updates to keep your computer secure.

As you use your laptop, you’re exposing it to dangerous conditions and situations that you have to guard against. Threats to your laptop security can come from a file you copy from a disc you insert into your laptop, but most of the time, the danger is that you’ll download a harmful program from the Internet.

These downloads can happen when you click a link, open an attachment in an e-mail, or download a piece of software without realizing that malware (malicious software) is attached to it.

You need to be aware of these three main types of malware:

  • A virus is a little program that some nasty person thought up to spread around the Internet and infect computers. A virus can do a variety of things, but typically, it attacks your data, deleting files, scrambling data, or making changes to your system settings that cause your laptop to grind to a halt.

  • Spyware consists of programs that help somebody track what you do with your laptop. Some spyware simply helps companies you do business with track your activities so that they can figure out how to sell things to you; other spyware is used for more insidious purposes, such as stealing your passwords.

  • Adware is the computer equivalent of telemarketing phone calls at dinner time. After adware is downloaded onto your laptop, you’ll see annoying pop-up windows trying to sell things or tempt you to illicit sites all day long. Beyond the annoyance, adware can quickly clog up your laptop. Your laptop’s performance slows down, and it’s hard to get anything done at all.

To protect your information and your laptop from these various types of malware, you can do several things:

  • You can buy and install an antivirus, anti-spyware, or anti-adware program. It’s critical that you install an antivirus program, such as those from McAfee, Symantec, AVG Free, or Trend Micro, or the freely downloadable AVG Free. People are coming up with new viruses every day, so it’s also important that you update the software regularly with the latest virus definitions.

    Many antivirus programs are purchased by yearly subscription, which gives you access to regularly updated virus definitions that the company constantly makes available throughout the year with the click of a button. Also, be sure to run a scan of your laptop on a regular basis. For convenience, you can use settings in the software to set up automatic updates and scans. Consult your program's Help tool for instructions.

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  • Install a program that combines tools for detecting adware and spyware. Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 have a built-in program, Windows Defender, which includes an anti-spyware feature. If you don’t have Windows 7, 8, or 8.1, you can purchase programs such as Spyware Doctor from PC Tools or download free tools such as Spybot or Spyware Terminator.

  • Use Windows 8.1 tools to keep Windows up-to-date with security features and fixes to security problems. You can also turn on a firewall, which is a feature that stops other people or programs from accessing your laptop over an Internet connection without your permission.

  • Use privacy and security features of your browser, such as the SmartScreen Filter, Tracking Protection, and InPrivate Browsing features in Internet Explorer 9, 10, and 11.

Laptop users who travel with their laptops face another type of security concern. Because you carry your laptop with you, it is exposed to potential theft or loss.

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