Steps to help prevent infection on your computer

Here are some tips for PC and Mac users alike — and smartphone users, too. Though there are “few” Mac viruses in the wild, there are plenty of unscrupulous programmers and con-men spreading free fraudulent software and malware.

Take the following steps to help prevent infection on your computer:
  • Enable a firewall on your computer.
  • Get the latest computer updates for all your installed software.
  • Use up-to-date antivirus software.
  • Limit user privileges on the computer.
  • Use caution when opening attachments and accepting file transfers.
  • Use caution when clicking on links to webpages.
  • Avoid downloading pirated software.
  • Protect yourself against social engineering attacks.
  • Use strong passwords.
Let me elaborate on a few points:
Get the latest computer updates

Updates help protect your computer from viruses, worms, and other threats as they are discovered. It is important to install updates for all the software that is installed in your computer. These are usually available from the providing company’s website. The following are programs I recommend updating straight from the source:

  • Adobe (www.adobe.com):
    • Flash
    • Acrobat Reader
    • Air
    • Shockwave
  • Java (www.java.com): Check this one monthly.
Use up-to-date antivirus software

Most antivirus software can detect and prevent infection by known malicious software. To help protect you from infection, you should always run antivirus software. If you have a “subscription” for update service, make sure you renew annually. Antivirus, contrary to popular belief, is not free-for-life.

Use caution when opening attachments and accepting file transfers

Exercise caution with email and attachments received from unknown sources, or received unexpectedly from known sources. Use extreme caution when accepting file transfers from known or unknown sources. When in doubt, reply to the sender, assuming it is someone you know, and confirm that they meant to send you the attachment. It’s possible their computer is infected and sent you the file without their knowledge. I’ve seen this happen several timers in the course of a year.

Use caution when clicking on links to webpages

As above: Exercise caution with links to webpages that you receive from unknown sources, especially if the links are to a webpage that you are not familiar with, unsure of the destination of, or suspicious of. Malicious software may be installed in your computer simply by visiting a webpage with harmful content.

Avoid downloading pirated software

Threats may also be bundled with software and files that are available for download on various torrent sites. Downloading “cracked” or “pirated” software from these sites carries not only the risk of being infected with malware, but is also illegal. For more information, see ‘The risks of obtaining and using pirated software‘.

Protect yourself from social engineering attacks

While attackers may attempt to exploit vulnerabilities in hardware or software to compromise a computer, they also attempt to exploit vulnerabilities in human behavior to do the same. When an attacker attempts to take advantage of human behavior to persuade the affected user to perform an action of the attacker’s choice, it is known as ‘social engineering’. Essentially, social engineering is an attack against the human interface of the targeted computer. For more information, see ‘What is social engineering?‘.

Use strong passwords

Attackers may try to gain access to your Windows account by guessing your password. It is therefore important that you use a strong password – one that cannot be easily guessed by an attacker. A strong password is one that has at least eight characters, and combines letters, numbers, and symbols. For more information, see http://www.microsoft.com/protect/yourself/password/create.mspx.

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