Archive for Antivirus

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.

Updated Posts: AntiVirus for Mac; Sneak Peek Sale

Back in Dec. 2008 I wrote a post titled Apple Encourages AntiVirus Use for Macs?! I updated the article today to include links to the latest AntiVirus and AntiSpyware applications for the Mac. If you still believe that Macs are invulnerable to viruses and spyware, then you may be interested in knowing that Apple has added anti-malware features to their latest Mac Snow Leopard operating system. See Dan Moren’s report at PCWorld on the Hidden Malware Features of Snow Leopard. I mentioned some risks to Mac users in recent weeks.

I also updated the links in my Jan. 2009 post about sale items on Buy.com. I’ve crossed out the items that are not available. I’ve updated the links and proces on the items that are available. It’s a useful link because many of the items have become very affordable.

Avast AntiVirus — Upgrade to Avast 5.0 Free!

Ever since I’ve started this blog I have supported one antivirus program above all others, and that antivirus is avast!

This great program has just been improved. They recently came out with Avast! 5.0. this is the biggest improvement they’ve made to the program in the 3 years or so that I’ve been recommending it.

Avast 5.0 includes:

  • File System Shield: Ensures your files are clean and safe. It scans your files when they’re opened or when they’re being saved.
  • Mail Shield: Monitors alll your email traffic, incoming and outgoing, making sure the messages and attachements you send and recive are clean and safe.
  • Web Shield: Montiors your web browsing to ensure you aren’t affected by any compromised or harmful web sites.
  • P2P Shield: Peer to peer shield protects your computer if you use file sharing systems, like LimeWire. Like the mail shield, it makes sure incoming and outgoing files are virus-free.
  • IM Shield: Now that Instant messaging and chat programs have file sharing capability, you’ll want to be sure the files your share are safe. It monitors all the popular IM programs such as Google Talk, AIM from AOL, Trillian, Skype, Yahoo Messenger, and Windows Messenger among others.
  • Network Shield: Monitors your network connections and stops any viruses that could infect your system via the network.. It also blocks access to known “malicious websites”.
  • Behavior Shield: Monitors your system for suspicious behavior and alerts you to unusual activity.

Download the latest Avast 5.0 today! And check out my other articles on Avast for more info.

Anti-Spyware and Anti-Virus for new computers

I’m picking up where I left off last week with the $450 computer system I built for a client. The system has 2 GB of RAM, a dual core processor, a 500GB hard drive, a DVD burner, and it runs the latest Windows 7 operating system.

In my last article, I listed some software I install on a typical new computer; today, I’ll continue by discussing spyware protection with PC Tools Spyware Doctor and virus protection using avast!

Viruses and Spyware: What’s the difference?

Viruses

  • Viruses are small programs or snippets of computer code that are designed to spread from one computer to another by infecting email messages, computer files, or storage media. When another computer opens an infected file, message, or disc, the virus has an opportunity to infect the new computer.
  • Viruses often have noticeable affects such as slowing down a computer, blocking access to files, causing unusual counds or messages to appear, or even the deletion of files stored on a system.
  • Each virus needs specific conditions in order to take effect. For example, some viruses may require that a file or email message needs to be opened — often by a specific program (Word, Excel, etc.). In some cases your computer maybe infected, but without the necessary activating conditions, you may never notice the virus’s presence, but it is still possible for the the virus to spread if the infected message or file is sent to another computer.
  • Viruses can be detected and eliminated by anti-virus software.

Spyware

  • Spyware, as it names implies, is more difficult to spot. After all, a good spy shouldn’t be noticed.
  • While viruses are designed to spread on their own, spyware is often intentionally downloaded by a computer user. Typically the user is deceived and lead to believe that the program they are downloading is useful, beneficial, or desirable.
  • Spyware is often designed to seek out personal information, or to trick the computer user into providing personal information.
  • Some spyware may have “viral elements” which enable to spyware to spread to other computers. Such spyware can be detected by anti-virus software.
  • Spyware without a viral element is detectable by anti-spyware software.

Many computer owners mistakenly believe that they only need one or the other, but if you use the Internet you should have both types of software installed on your computer. Antispyware doesn’t detect viruses, and antivirus programs only detect some spyware programs (as mentioned above).

avast! antivirus

My antivirus software of choice is avast! This program is free for home users with only one computer. If you have more than one computer, they ask that you download the avast! Pro version. avast! Pro for one computer is $40, $55 for three computers, and $85 for 5 computers. I have installed this software on over a hundred computers, and there have been no complaints from anyone who’s used it.

PC Tools Spyware Doctor

My favorite anti-spyware program is PC Tools Spyware Doctor. I found this program several years ago, and was happily surprised to find it caught more spyware than any other program of its kind. I’ve been using it and recommending it ever since.

Spyware Doctor just keeps getting better with age. The latest version includes anti-virus software, and the October 2009 issue of PC Magazine says:

“The latest Spyware Doctor proved effective in every area of malware removal and blocking. It’s a great product.”

Spyware Doctor can be installed on up to three computers for $39.95. It’s only available online. Click the links above or the picture at left in order to buy your copy. Its available as a download and as a mail-order CD.

Registering Avast Home Edition AntiVirus

Back in February of this year I wrote an article, Free AntiVirus and No Catch, about the Avast Home Edition AntiVirus program. The article included a list of steps to follow when registering Avast.

Today, a client of mine from New York City emailed to ask me how to re-register Avast. The steps from the prior article still apply, but this time I’ve made a video demonstrating the registration process. Take a look. Consult the earlier article for additional information.

Monday, I’ll have a video demonstration on some recommended configuration settings for Avast! Enjoy the weekend, and, as always, feel free to send me your questions or comments.

Conficker Virus Begins To Attack PCs

I was reading about the Conficker virus on Shawn’s Technology Blog. He says that a report from Reuters says the Conficker virus — which was supposed to activate on April 1st — has slowly started activating on computers by installing spyware and turning them into spam servers.

Conficker is also known as Downadup and Kido, and it also installs a second virus called Waledac.

Reuters mentions how the computer worm began spreading late last year, and how it was designed to respond to commands from a remote server. This army of slave computers infected with the worm controlled by a remote server is called a botnet.

Furthermore, Vincent Weafer, a vice president with Symantec Security Response, makers of Norton Antivirus, has reported that recently the unknown controllers of this remote server have begun using a small percentage of the computers they control to upload ‘malware’ and ‘spyware’. One such piece of malware is the Waledac virus which installs itself on the infected computer, and then uses the computer to send out spam email messages promoting a fake anti-spyware program.

Meanwhile, Shawn’s technology Blog is very wisely recommending that computer owners keep your Windows software up to date by visiting the Windows Update web site. He also recommends you install anti-spyware software such as PC Tools Spyware Doctor. I strongly agree with his recommendations, and have done so frequently in this blog. I also recommend you install an antivirus program such as Alwil’s free Avast! antivirus program. Yes, you read that correctly, Avast antivirus is free. I have been using it on all my computers for several years now.

http://www.pctools.com/free-antivirus/

There is a free version of Spyware Doctor available from Google which does a good job of removing spyware, but for real time protection against spyware you should purchase Spyware Doctor. If you don’t have an antivirus program, you might also consider downloading Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus.

Have a question about spyware or viruses? Then why not post a Comment or Question with the link below.

Keep up-to-date with Skylarking: By Email or RSS Newsfeed or on Twitter. You can also send questions with Skylarking’s email form.

Postcard from Hallmark Hoax

An oldie but a goody has been making the rounds again. The old “postcard from a friend” warning hoax. This one has been circulating in one form or another since 2001. Every three or four years it gets reinvented. Once upon a time it was the “Olympic Torch” hoax. Now, it’s the “Postcard from Hallmark” and the “Postcard from a friend” hoax. Here’s what it looks like as of August and November 2008:

warning

Postcard from Hallmark Warning Hoax

There’s a few tipoffs that this message isn’t to be taken seriously. First off, the Subject line (not shown) has the text “FWD”which means my friend forwarded it to me, and didn’t actually write the message. In some cases you have to open attachments to get to the message, which means it’s been forwarded many times.

Another tipoff is that there are no datesmentioned. When did they check Norton? Norton usually issues updates in less than 24 hours to fight these viruses, so it may be a dead issue by the time I get this email. By the way, Norton doesn’t “gear up”. They just issue a fix and that’s it. Same goes for McAfee, AVG, TrendMicro, and Alwil Avast. they all want to be the first to defeat any new virus, so these things are usually non-issues in less than 24 hours.

Tip: If I saw my friend sent this to me more than a day ago, or that he received it more than a day ago, I’d assume the virus was dead by now. Most of these things have a shelf life of 48 hours. If you renew your antivirus subscriptions every year, then your antivirus gets updated automatically any where from 4 to 12 times per day. That’s about every 2 to 4 hours.

Another tipoff this message is a hoaxis the fact that though they mention “I checked with Snopes (URL above), and it is for real!!”, but there is no URL (web address) in the message. If you take the time to check Snopes you find out this email began popping up again in August and November 2008. That’s 6 months ago. The antivirus companies blocked this virus before Thanksgiving.

Here’s another tip. Here’s what a real email notice from Hallmark looks like as of today:

hallmark-hoax

A Genuine Email Notice From Hallmark

Here’s how to recognize a genuine email notice from Hallmark:

1. The “From” includes Hallmark’s “hallmarkonline.com” email address and your friend’s email address. These messages don’t come anonymously. In your Inbox you would see your friend’s email address or name.

2. The genuine Hallmark email shows your email address in the “To” box. It’s not going to show more than one email address.

3. The genuine Hallmark notice shows your friend’s name in the Subject line with their first and last name. The same goes for the inside of the email message where they boldly display your friend’s full name (red circle area). As a matter of fact, I sent this message to myself from the Hallmark web site, and Hallmark wouldn’t even send the message without a First and last name in the mail form.

Another thing to watch out for is attachments. Hallmark doesn’t send attachments.  If I got a message claiming to be from hallmark from an anonymous friend, and I saw an attachment, I’d know it was a fake. Tap the Delete key.

Best Protection

The best protection from these hoaxes is antivirus software. Get a quality antivirus program, and make sure you renew your antivirus subscriptions every year. The best antivirus programs are from McAfee, Symantec/Norton, TrendMicro, and my personal favorite Avast from Alwil Software at www.avast.com. It’s free, and it works. Check out my post about Avast from last month. it tells you how to best install and set it up.

Renew your antivirus subscriptions every year.

Let me reinforce that point: Renew your antivirus subscriptions every year. If you bought a new computer, chances are you only had a 30 day trial version. It doesn’t update any more after 30 days, so you’re only protected from old viruses after that, not the new ones.

Another Tip: “BCC:” and not “To:”

If you can’t help yourself, and you feel you must notify everyone in your address book, find out how to use the “BCC” (Blind Carbon Copy) feature in your email system instead of the “To” box when addressing your email. All email systems have the BCC feature, but they don’t all display it openly. Using “BCC” instead of  “To” will hide all your friend’s email messages from each other.

Have you heard of six degrees of separation? That’s the theory that we are all separated from one another by 6 people. For example, your friend’s friend’s friend’s friend’s friend is Kevin Bacon. Put another way, your friend six places removed maybe a spammer. The copy of the email warning I received had no less than 268 email addresses in it.  If I was a spammer I would be so very very happy right now to have all those real email addresses.

Conclusions

  • “Postcard from Hallmark” warning email is a hoax. It’s been going around for almost 10 years in one form or another.
  • Get quality antivirus software such as Avast. (Watch out for the bogus antivirus programs out there).
  • Renew your antivirus subscriptions every year. They expire, and expired subscriptions don’t protect you from new viruses.
  • Antivirus programs update at least 4 to 12 times a day
  • Most viruses are blocked in less than 24 to 48 hours.
  • Use BCC instead of To when sending out mass emails. Don’t know where it is? Call your Email Service Providers customer service line or check their Help page. (Don’t know where to look? Contact me or post a comment, and I’ll find out for you.  No charge.)
  • Got a question about a potential hoax? Ask Skylarking to investigate or check out http://www.skylarknetworks.com/email-hoaxes.htm#Email_Hoaxes:_How_Spot_Them,_How_To_Check_Them

Post Comments or Questions with the link below. Keep up-to-date with Skylarking: By Email or RSS Newsfeed or on Twitter. You can also send questions with my email form. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Free AntiVirus and No Catch

Good morning, blogosphere!!!!

On the rare moments when conversations turn to antivirus programs, people often ask which one I use. My answer is avast! (lower case “a”) from Alwil Software. Yep, avast!, just like the pirates said.

If you only have one computer you can download, install, and use it for free. No catches. It’s fully functional for free.

avast! Home Edition is suitable for use on a family computer, and their license allows you to install the software on a home office computer, too. It’s free for one computer, and if you have more than one computer you can purchase 2 avast! Professional Edition licenses for $68 total. Discounts are available for two or three year purchases.

For more than 2 computers in your household consider using their avast! Professional Family Pack for $80 which allows you to install it on up to 10 computers.

Get avast! Home Edition

logo_avast_02Go to the avast! Home Edition download pageto download the program. It’s small enough to fit onto a thumb drive if you need to install it on a computer other than the one you’re sitting at. (The downloaded file is named “setup***.exe” The asterisks stand for the letters of the language version you chose, so the English version is setupeng.exe.)

save-or-runIf you’re going to install on the computer you’re sitting at just choose the “Run” option instead of “Save”, but make sure you’ve removed any existing antivirus on your computer beforehand. If you don’t know how to uninstall software, checkout this Windows XP uninstallation tutorial at About.com or this simple Windows Vista program uninstallation tutorial from Microsoft.

After you’ve installed the software, you’ll be told to restart the computer, and you’ll be asked if you want to run a virus scan when it restarts. If you’ve been without antivirus software for a while, I recommend running the start up scan.

When your computer has returned to the desktop screen, you will see the little blue ball with the white lower case “a” and another with a lower case “i” next to the clock in the lower right hand corner of your screen.  Those are the avast! icons. Point at the one with the “i”, right click and choose “merge” and you’ll have one less icon there.

Register avast!

Now you should register the program so that it is fully functional after the trial period.  It’s free, so go ahead and register. they just ask for your email address, name, and country. Use your real email address so you will receive the registration number.

To register avast!

  1. licenseRight click the avast icon! by the clock, and choose “About avast!” A small dialog box appears (shown at right).
  2. Click the “License key…” button, and the Registration dialog box appears.
  3. Click “Program registration” and a browser window will open onto the avast Program Registration page. Fill in the form, etc., and click “Register”.
  4. regmailCheck your email for a message from avast. You’ll see a message like the one at right. Highlight the line of numbers and letters between the two “cut here” lines. Then copy the highlighted code. (I like to use CTRL+C on the keyboard, or right click and choose Copy with the mouse).
  5. regscreenClose some windows and get back to the Registration dialog box. Highlight the license key area, and paste the code you copied in the last step. (I use CTRL+V on the keyboard or right click, Paste with the mouse).
  6. Click “OK” and you’re set. No need to re-register for another year.

Click here to see a video demonstration of the avast! registration process.

One last thing

settings

avast! updates the software periodically, and you’ll want the software to install automatically. Here’s how to set avast! to update for you.

  1. Right click the avast! icon by the clock on the lower right of your screen, and choose “Program Settings…”. A dialog box appears onscreen.
  2. Click “Update (Basic) on the left hand sidebar of the screen.
  3. Click the two radio buttons labelled “Automatic”, click “OK”, and you’re done! avast! will keep itself updated automatically from this point forward.

I’ve been using avast! for over 4 years now, and I’m very happy with the program. I’ve seen it catch stuff the better known programs have missed, and it doesn’t slow down my computer like some of the better known antivirus programs do.

Other Versions

avast! is also available for Macs and Linuxbased computers. Mac users often overlook antivirus protection because there are so few Mac viruses out there, but I find many Mac computers turn into PC virus carriers, and unknowingly end up spreading viruses to their PC using friends.




Post Comments or Questions with the link below. Keep up-to-date with Skylarking: By Email or RSS Newsfeed or on Twitter. You can also send questions with my email form.