Understanding Technology Risks on the Internet

By Nancy C. Muir

Your computer comes with an operating system (such as Microsoft Windows) built in, and that operating system has security features. Sometimes that operating system has flaws — or new threats emerge after it’s released — and you need to install an update to keep it secure. And as you use your computer, you’re exposing it to dangerous conditions and situations that you have to guard against.

Threats to your computer security can come from a file you copy from a disc you insert into your computer, but most of the time, the danger is from a program that you download from the Internet. These downloads can happen when you click a link, open an attachment in an email, 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 dangerous programs:

  • 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 by deleting files, scrambling data, or making changes to your system settings that cause your computer to grind to a halt.

  • Spyware consists of programs responsible for tracking what you do with your computer. 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 dinnertime. After adware is downloaded onto your computer, you’ll see annoying pop-up windows trying to sell things to you all day long. Beyond the annoyance, adware can quickly clog up your computer. The computer’s performance slows down, and it’s hard to get anything done at all.

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

  • You can buy and install an antivirus, antispyware, or anti-adware program. It’s critical that you install an antivirus program, such as those from McAfee, Symantec, or Trend Micro, or the freely downloadable AVG Free.

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    People come up with new viruses every day, so it’s important that you use software that’s up to date with the latest virus definitions and that protects your computer from the latest threats. Many antivirus programs are purchased by yearly subscription, which gives you access to updated virus definitions that the company constantly gathers throughout the year. Be sure to update the definitions of viruses on your computer regularly using this software, and then run a scan of your computer on a regular basis. For convenience, you can use settings in the software to activate automatic updates and scans. Consult your program’s Help tool for instructions on how to use these features.

  • Install a program that combines tools for detecting adware and spyware. Windows 10 has a built-in program, Windows Defender, which includes an antispyware feature. You can also purchase programs such as Spyware Doctor (from PC Tools) or download free tools such as Spybot or Spyware Terminator.

  • Use Windows 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 computer over an Internet connection without your permission.

  • Use your browser’s privacy and security features, such as the Suggested Content and InPrivate Browsing features in Microsoft Edge.