It seems that every day there is a new virus, spyware or adware threat. What are you doing to protect your personal data and identity? Here are ten free ways which can help a home user can protect his/her personal computer from online malware threats.
- Use anti-virus software, keep it up-to-date and run scans regularly
There are many choices of software out there some cost money others are free for home users. If you are a home user I recommend AVG Anti-Virus. AVG can be setup to update itself, scan incoming email for potential viruses as well as be set to run periodic scans. In other words, AVG does not require much user intervention at all. It has a clean, well laid out user interface and is really quite simple to use.
To download AVG or view an entire list of free anti-virus applications go to our free anti-virus software page
- Use anti-spyware software, again, keep it up-to-date and run scans regularly
My personal favorites in this department are SpyBot Search & Destroy, AdAware, Windows Defender and HiJackThis, all of which are free for home users. I have found that running Spybot Search & Destroy, AdAware and Windows Defender will pick up most, if not all spyware threats. For a more advanced tool you can use HiJackThis but I recommend finding an online forum where you can post your HiJackThis log so a professional can analyze the file and let you know what is safe to remove. I have used Spybot Search & Destroy, AdAware and Windows Defender to remove infections from many computers. Running these programs while in Safe Mode seems to be most effective. To learn how to start a computer in Safe Mode go here
To read more about the above mentioned free spyware detection/removal applications go to our free anti-spyware software page.
- Keep your computer’s operating system up-to-date.
If you are running Windows XP this is a fairly simple process using Windows build in a feature called Windows Update:
- Click on the “Start” menu and choose “Control Panel”.
- Double-click the “System” Control Panel and click the “Automatic Updates” tab.
- Put a check the box that says “Keep my computer up to date”.
- Under “Settings” choose “Automatically download the updates and install them on the schedule that I specify”.
- Now choose a convenient time for Windows to update your computer.
- Click the “Apply” button and then click “OK” to close the window.
- Do not open email attachments from unknown sources.
Email is probably one of the most common ways to pick up a computer virus. Image this, an email comes into your inbox, it’s from an unknown sender but the attachment is called freemoney.txt.exe. You see the .txt file extension and think that the file must be safe because it’s only a text file so you decided to open the attachment. Within seconds your computer is infected by a Trojan virus, without your knowledge your computer sends a virus infected email to all of the contacts in your address book. As a result, your friends open the attachment, their computers get infected, they send the infected message to all the contacts in their address book and so on……In other words, your computer can become part of the larger problem. This can be avoided by making sure that you know who is sending you the attachment and that the file is indeed safe.
- Use passwords that are not easy to guess and change them frequently
Do not use your first name, phone number, dogs name etc.. as your password. Choose something that is unique to you. Use a combination of letters (both uppercase and lowercase), numbers, symbols, and punctuation. if you can. For example using: ‘3eRz17b’ as a password would be more difficult to guess than ‘spot’. Change your online banking passwords, computer login passwords, and email passwords frequently. Keep your passwords safe and don’t write them down on paper and tape it to your computer monitor. I know that this seems like common sense but I had to mention it.
- Do not download free software unless you have verified that it is legitimate.
There are many websites online that are simply there to infect your computer. If you see something that you want to download type the name into a Google search box and see what others have to say about it. Gather up a few sources and be certain that it’s safe to install. The time you take to verify the legitimacy of the software will probably much less than the amount of time and it would take to clean viruses and spyware from your computer.
- Use a software firewall
A firewall is exactly what it sounds like – a barrier between your computer and the Internet but we are not talking about protection from fires! A good firewall monitors both incoming and outgoing network traffic. Windows XP and Vista both have built in firewalls but they only monitor incoming traffic. I recommend a program called Zone Alarm. Zone Alarm is free for personal use. It’s simple to configure and offers solid protection from unwanted Internet traffic. There are many other free firewalls out there. Read more about Zone Alarm and other free options here
- Stay away from ‘questionable’ websites
Plain and simple, if you are going to visit ‘the dark side of the web’ you run the risk of infection.
- Be wary of pop-ups
Do NOT click any button in the pop-up for example: do not use the ‘Close’ or ‘Cancel’ buttons, or the Close box that may appear in the upper-right corner of the window. Closing a pop-up in that way could potentially install a virus or other malicious software on your computer. To close a pop-up ad, press Ctrl-W.
- Back up your data regularly
This is self-explanatory, keep backups of your personal data. There are many cost-effective ways to do this do some research and develop a plan to backup your data frequently preferably on some form of external media such as DVD, CD or external hard drive. For more on how to backup data see this tutorial.
Computer security is a serious issue. No particular above-mentioned method can 100% guaranteed to prevent all malware infections. Following these guidelines (mixed with a bit of common sense) can help prevent virus and spyware infections. Education is the primary malware solution.
Michael has written many articles on virus and spyware removal techniques. He is the owner of Vermont PC Solutions and he maintains MalwareSolutions.com which is a website dedicated to supplying online information about malware protection and removal as well as free virus and spyware removal tools. He has been cleaning infected computers for over ten years.