As someone who generally knows his way around a computer, I often get asked for help with computer problems. Let me just go over some basic things that will protect most people from the vast majority of threats to your PC’s security. It’s actually kind of simple, but I think a lot of people are just too LAZY. If you want to use a computer, this comes with the territory – don’t be ignorant.
This guide is for Windows PC’s, not Macs. I have never used a Mac and don’t intend to anytime in the near future. And if you want to drink the Apple koolaid and believe Macs are completely protected from viruses and other malware, than that’s your prerogative.
What kind of threats are out there? Well, there’s:
These are malicious programs designed to do damage to your system or perform other nefarious tasks on your computer.
Trojans are technically a subset of viruses but these are popular these days. Trojans try to hide itself from the user, rather than blatantly doing damage like deleting data. Trojans are typically used to gather private data from your computer like passwords and financial information. They can also be used to take control of your computer or use resources to perform other tasks like spamming without you even knowing it.
Unlike viruses, which typically need to be downloaded and executed (i.e. via an email attachment), worms can be transmitted directly to your system without you knowing. Worms often take advantage of operating system vulnerabilities, hence the importance of keeping your OS (i.e. Windows) and anti-virus up to date.
This is a general term that basically covers any software that does bad or undesirable things on your computer.
- Social Engineering
This comprises of things like phishing attacks and the sort. I’m sure you’ve seen fake emails asking you for passwords or other private information. Email is by the far the most prevalent attack vector for social engineering.
So how do you protect yourself?
- Run a genuine version of Windows and keep it updated
Running a genuine version of Windows lets you run Windows Updates which is critically important because of the Service Packs and security updates. You should ALWAYS apply all Windows security updates. If you don’t, you are seriously asking for trouble.
- Run an anti-virus and firewall
The dumbest thing you can do is not run an anti-virus program. You can kind of skate by without a firewall but I don’t recommend it. I personally run Kaspersky Internet Security and highly recommend it for others. These days PC security suites typically auto-update but it’s important to make sure your anti-virus is regularly updated to keep up with the latest threats.
- Make sure you know where an email is coming from
Before you do anything like downloading an attachment or clicking a link, make SURE you know where the email is coming from. Phishing emails typically masquerade as real official emails from your bank or other companies and will spoof the “From” address. And remember that such companies never ask for your password or private information through email.
And NEVER EVER open an attachment from someone you don’t know. Actually don’t open any attachment that even looks remotely suspicious or if the attachment comes unexpectedly or you can’t tell what the attachment is by looking at the filename. Most malware try to spread through the victim’s email contacts. So even emails from people you know aren’t always safe. Outlook downloads an attachment automatically, so it’s very important to have updated anti-virus software.