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Malware Threats: 7 Ways To Protect Your Computer

7 Ways To Protect Your Computer From Malware

Has your computer been moving slower than normal? There may be a reason—malicious software.

When the performance of our hardware begins to behave unusually, our default reaction is to think that it's a virus. Though a virus is always a possibility, more often than not the issue is a specific type of infection known as malware.

What preventive measures can you take against popular malware like ransomware, phishing, and cryptojacking? Here's a seven-step plan.

  1. Only Use Trusted Antivirus and Malware Software
  2. Configure Regular Scans and Monitor Settings
  3. Always Update Your Operating System
  4. Rely Only On Secure Networks (Encrypted)
  5. Employ Browser Common Sense
  6. Keep a Tight Grip on Your Personal Information
  7. Stay Up-to-Date on the Latest Attacks

There are more than two million different malware threats are created each day. When you think about it, that is an extraordinarily difficult number to wrap your head around.

Malware is extremely prevalent, annoying, time consuming, and frustrating, regardless of whether it is designed to give you a hard time, or to hijack your browser or operating system.

Let's take a closer, in-depth look at the seven ways you can avoid malware and the troubles that go with it.

Only Use Trusted Antivirus and Malware Software

Few people these days will use a computer, smartphone or tablet without some type of antivirus and malware detection software. In 2017, only 27% of Windows computers were unprotected, as a report by Digital Journal shows. However, not all of those individuals utilize a dependable or well-known provider.

Antivirus software like Norton, Kaspersky, Comodo, AVG, Avast, and Webroot may cost you just a bit more than self-described "free antivirus" applications, yet all have a longstanding tradition for being effective and recognizing security threats.

There are free antivirus software downloads on the web, but do you want to trust your computer with just any type of software? Furthermore, many totally free antivirus programs are themselves Potentially Unwanted Programs ("PUPs"), and come installed with some kind of spyware.

Investing in high quality antivirus software is a small price to pay compared to the harmful hijacking or cryptojacking that could occur on your personal devices.

Important Note: Install software updates you receive immediately.

Good antivirus software will go a long way in helping detect and remove malware, but it does not help much if you do not keep the software, and all your other programs updated.

With the latest Google Chrome zero-day vulnerabilities announcement, some browsers remained exposed, even after the automatic update was installed, because the browser was not restarted.

So while IT teams may do a fine job of monitoring, notifying, and correcting security risks, they also need help from you. Therefore, you need not only to install updates as soon as they become available, but also to restart the systems as well, in order to fully implement the updates.

Configure Regular Scans and Monitor Settings

Antivirus software is something that everyone should have. If you ask the average person if they need an antivirus program, they would probably agree. And yet, nearly half of all Americans have no form of antivirus protection whatsoever, according to a recent study by Webroot.

In 2017, the Erie County Medical Center in New York was hacked, exposing private patient data and costing the hospital millions. The hackers ended up taking down their computer system for a total of six weeks. They couldn't do anything—all the screens were blacked out. They ended up having to shell out over $44,000 in Bitcoin to the hackers just to regain access to their own equipment.

And all of this because happened simply they didn't have any type of antivirus software to stop this from happening.

While it is intended to run in the background, you still need to manage it up front. It is a good idea to set up automatic scans to run every few days or week to make sure the software is doing its job.

If you find that the performance of your PC is vastly reduced when running a scan, then don't run the scan while you're using your machine. Late at night, for example, is a logical choice for most people.

Finally, in order to ensure the scan runs, you should make sure that the system is not turned off and cannot go to sleep and/or hibernation.

Always Update Your Operating System

All the major software providers have their own operating systems, and each have their own antivirus defenses. Yet, they still have to do updates on a regular basis to address newly-discovered vulnerabilities. While you may feel that restarting your system and upgrading to a newer version is not necessary, you need to know these updates are designed to decrease your exposure to possible exploits.

Security teams are always issuing new patches that fix malware threats and zero day vulnerabilities. However, if you continue using an older operating system—ignoring constant request to upgrade your OS to a newer version—your computer is at risk of being infected with malware.

Getting notified about a computer update is like hearing your in-laws are in town to visit. Although you may feel obligated to do it, at the end of the day it just seems there are more enjoyable things to do.

However, operating system updates are important. If you put them off, the consequences could be much worse than disgruntled in-laws.

Take, for example, what happened with the Wannacry ransomware attack, in which more than 200,000 computers were compromised across 150 different countries, with total damages that ranged in the hundred millions to billions of dollars. With the proper antivirus software installed, this could have been thwarted fairly easily.

Rely Only On Secure Networks (Encrypted)

With the mass adoption of wireless technology in the last decade, our personal information is constantly being sent over public networks...and it's not always protected as well as we think. Our computers connect to files, printers, and the internet constantly, and hackers love to prey on unprotected internet traffic.

The reality is, you're playing with fire if your do the following:

  • Insist on using public Wi-Fi without browser protection
  • Do not use a password for your own personal network (and share that information with others)
  • Rely only on WEP router encryption, the weakest there is.

Whenever using a Wi-Fi network, whether it's at home or your local Starbucks, consider using a virtual private network (VPN) with strong encryption.

You need a wireless network at home that is WPA or WPA2 encrypted. Never broadcast your SSID to others even if you have trustworthy guests who want to share the network. Instead, create a guest SSID and different password for those people.

Bottom line: if your network is not secure, you need to use a virtual private network. But you can't just use any VPN. You need to know what to look for in a quality VPN and, specifically, you need to check and make sure that the VPN you are using is not logging your data, which some VPNs (typically free ones) often do.

Employ Browser Common Sense

When it comes to street crime, there are common-sense principles that automatically keep you safe, such as never traveling alone at night, staying in well-lit areas, and so on). Likewise, the same principles of self-preservation apply when browsing the internet.

Avoid websites that feature pirated material, particularly torrent sites like The Pirate Bay. These kinds of places are loaded with malware. You should never open an email attachment from someone you do not recognize, which could be part of a phishing scam.

Here are a few tips:

  • Scan every file before you download it, even if the file is sent from family or friends.
  • Hover your mouse over a shortened link to see what URL it is taking you too before clicking it, especially if the link is in an email from someone you don't know or recognize.

According to the most recent statistics, more than 18 million sites on the internet are infected with malware. There are obvious red flags regarding corrupted websites, so you should not only immediately leave them, but also report them to your antivirus provider.

Secondly, always make sure that you visit a website with an SSL certificate. You can verify this by looking for the secured icon to the left of the URL (the web address).

When a browser, such as Chrome, notifies you that a website in not secure, take action to prevent the entire page from being loaded.

Malicious websites are often hosted in the data centers of cheap web hosting providers, many of which are host thousands of sites on a single shared server with little to no quality control. As a result, when it comes to internet safety, an ounce of prevention is worth a ton, compared to undoing all the damage.

Keep a Tight Grip on Your Personal Information

It is getting increasingly difficult to manage all of your personal information online.

Why is this?

Shouldn't advances in encryption technology and standards make us more safe, not less? The reality is, all companies today are "internet" companies. They keep your all data in digital form—your home address, social security numbers, usernames, passwords, and transaction history. All of which are just few hacks away from getting exposed.

And though encryption is stronger today than ever before, so too is the value of your digital secrets. One small hack can release the private information of thousands or millions of users.

And that's not even starting with message boards and social media profiles where hackers can social engineer personal information.

Recent legislation, such the EU's GDPR and California's CCPA, are designed to protect consumer data, but could actually backfire. A recent report by Panda Security shows how stronger encryption standards could make it easier for some forms of malware to infect your computer.

Many online businesses have policies for GDPR compliance, but they could inadvertently create a backdoor for new forms of encrypted malware.

In summary, there are not nearly enough precautionary methods you can take to avoid identity theft. Make sure your privacy settings on social media profiles are as strict as possible, and be cautious of giving out any real information including your real name.

Stay Up-to-Date on the Latest Attacks

Cybercriminals are frequently adjusting and introducing new malware. Malvertising, for example, is just one example of malware.

In addition to staying updated with all your programs and operating system, also remove any software you no longer use. Outdated programs no longer have patches (updates/fixes) and leave you vulnerable to attacks.

And while many people don't like the U.S. government looking over our shoulders, security agencies are actually helping. In fact, there's a branch of Homeland Security called the Cyber Security Division. The analyze all types of threats, both private and public, and regularly update their database of vulnerabilities targeting both small and large business. Though many staunch libertarians may argue that this is another form of "Big Brother" trying to spy on us, they actually help us—with and without our permission.

Conclusion

Malware is extremely prevalent, yet it is not impossible to avoid. A lot of preventative measures are simple and require minimal effort or funds to implement.

To recap, here's how to protect yourself from malware:

  • Always used a trusted antivirus program from a reputable provider.
  • Run scans regularly.
  • Always update your operating systems and software.
  • Use security networks, proxies, and/or VPN's whenever possible.
  • Don't click on everything you see (a website or email link).
  • Protect your usernames and password as if your financial future depends on it.
  • Know what the latest threats are and how to prevent them.

When you take these basic precautions, you will vastly improve your security and ensure that your computer runs as fast as it should.

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