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Computer Safety Tips

9 Steps to Protecting Your Computer from Viruses and Other Malware


Smiling man using laptop in bed
David Lees/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Achieving good computer security can seem like a daunting task. Fortunately, following the few simple steps outlined below can provide a good measure of security in very little time.

1) Use antivirus software and keep it up-to-date. You should check for new definition updates daily. Most antivirus software can be configured to do this automatically.

  • Top Antivirus Software
  • Top Spyware Scanners

    2) Install security patches. Vulnerabilities in software are constantly being discovered and they don't discriminate by vendor or platform. It's not simply a matter of updating Windows; at least monthly, check for and apply updates for all software you use.

  • For Windows updates, visit the Windows Update Center
  • For all other updates, use the Secunia Software Inspector

    3) Use a firewall. No Internet connection is safe without one. Firewalls are necessary even if you have a dial-up Internet connection -- it takes only minutes for a a non-firewalled computer to be infected.

  • Free ZoneAlarm Firewall
  • Using the Windows Firewall

    4) Secure your browser. Many labor under the dangerous misconception that only Internet Explorer is a problem. It's not the browser you need to be concerned about. Nor is it a matter of simply avoiding certain 'types' of sites. Known, legitimate websites are frequently being compromised and implanted with malicious javascript that foists malware onto visitors' computers. To ensure optimum browsing safety, the best tip is to disable javascript for all but the most essential of sites -- such as your banking or regular ecommerce sites. Not only will you enjoy safer browsing, you'll be able to eliminate unwanted pop-ups as well.

  • How to Disable Javascript in IE, Firefox, and Opera

    5) Take control of your email. Avoid opening email attachments received unexpectedly -- no matter who appears to have sent it. Remember that most worms and trojan-laden spam try to spoof the sender's name. And make sure your email client isn't leaving you open to infection. Reading email in plain text offers important security benefits that more than offset the loss of pretty colored fonts.

  • Why Plain(text) is Better
  • How To Secure Your Email

    6) Treat IM suspiciously. Instant Messaging is a frequent target of worms and trojans. Treat it just as you would email.

  • Tips for IM Safety

    7) Avoid P2P and distributed filesharing. Torrent, Kazaa, Gnutella, Morpheus and at least a dozen other filesharing networks exist. Most are free. And all are rife with trojans, viruses, worms, adware, spyware, and every other form of malicious code imaginable. There's no such thing as safe anonymous filesharing. Avoid it like the plague.

    8) Keep abreast of Internet scams. Criminals think of clever ways to separate you from your hard earned cash. Don't get fooled by emails telling sad stories, or making unsolicited job offers, or promising lotto winnings. Likewise, beware of email masquerading as a security concern from your bank or other eCommerce site.

  • Internet Scams, Phishing, and Fraud

    9) Don't fall victim to virus hoaxes. Dire-sounding email spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about non-existent threats serve only to spread needless alarm and may even cause you to delete perfectly legitimate files in response.

  • Hoax Encyclopedia
  • Urban Legends and Folklore

    Remember, there's far more good than bad on the Internet. The goal isn't to be paranoid. The goal is to be cautious, aware, and even suspicious. By following the tips above and becoming actively engaged in your own security, you'll not only be protecting yourself, you'll be contributing to the protection and betterment of the Internet as a whole.

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