How to Protect Yourself from Computer Viruses - dummies

How to Protect Yourself from Computer Viruses

By Ryan C. Williams

How can you protect passwords and personal information from computer viruses? Get some antivirus software (like Norton or McAfee, or use a free version like AVG). Newer operating systems like Windows 8 can even have virus protection built in. And then remember to update your antivirus software consistently.

The software is good, but without updated antivirus definitions that fight against current viruses (which are written and released almost every day), your antivirus software doesn’t do you much good. Antivirus software manufacturers are continually updating these definitions, and you must get their updates from the web at least once a month — and every time you hear about a new virus that’s storming the computer world like a plague.

The best way to make sure that your computer hasn’t been hijacked is to run antivirus scans regularly. If your computer is connected to the Internet 24/7, you should also run a personal firewall program.

A personal firewall program, among other safety features, helps you detect the presence of an intruder program by alerting you every time one of your programs — or, more importantly, a program being controlled by a hacker or zombie — tries to connect to services or locations on the Internet that you don’t normally frequent.

More recent antivirus software packages automatically update their own definitions from the Internet so you don’t have to. If you’re absentminded you should invest in one of these auto-updating antivirus software programs even if an antivirus program is already installed on your computer.

Most antivirus software now blocks spyware as well, but you can also avoid it by not clicking unknown links or installing unknown software from the Internet. This includes that link that says your computer is already infected — it isn’t now, but it will be after you click that link.

And don’t forget to update your software, either! Privacy and security problems are most likely to show up in operating system, e-mail, and browser software, and other communications software, such as instant messenger programs.

The good news is that the media is very good about covering stories about privacy holes in software — so you can be sure that if one of the programs you use has a problem, you’ll hear about it. When you do, hightail it to the web and download the security fix.

Operating systems and apps usually do a good job of letting you know when updates are ready, but don’t be afraid to be proactive.

Mobile devices don’t suffer as much vulnerability as PCs because they operate in a more closed environment and often use a locked operating system. However, just because it isn’t a common occurrence doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

Both major app stores (iOS and Android) have seen instances where potential malware found its way into downloadable apps. Both services were able to eliminate the threats remotely, but you still need to be aware of what you install on your device, and which links you click (even in SMS messages or apps like Twitter or Facebook). Consider anti-virus software for all of your devices, even your smartphone and tablet.