When it comes to malware, you can normally avoid installing any unwanted applications by practicing safe browsing and Internet use. While there are no guarantees, if you follow these simple steps, you should be able to avoid the bulk of malware threats on the web.
1. Make Sure You’re Clean Before You Start.
Malware can make your online life a living hell, serving you countless popup ads, slowing your system down to a crawl and spreading itself to your friends, colleagues and family through your email contact list.
Sometimes, however, the most dangerous types of malware are the threats that creep onto your computer very insidiously that you don’t even know are there. In fact, you could have a piece of spyware on your computer right now that is faithfully recording every keystroke that you make and sending your passwords, usernames and browsing history back to it’s owner on the other side of the world — and you’d never know that anything was wrong.
The best way to check that your system is clean of all malware is to conduct a scan using a reputable anti-malware software solution. Even if you don’t buy the software, you should conduct a scan independent of any security tools that are on your computer, such as anti-virus and firewall solutions.
You can download the easiest to use anti-malware scanner available today for free along with an easy to follow guide from the Malware Threat HQ website.
2. Know It Before You Install It.
Most often malware is found either packaged up with free software (as is in the case of adware) or embedded on a webpage, video or mp3 file. The easiest way to avoid malware is to simply understand the origin of the software, image, URL or file that you are considering accessing. Common examples of software that malware piggybacks on top of are P2P downloaders, instant messenger add-on packs, screensavers, games and search tools. Follow these tips before downloading any software title or file onto your PC – even if it’s been recommended to you by a friend or family member:
- Do you trust the source of the software, URL or file? Avoid downloading software without visiting the site first. If possible, download software from large sites like microsoft.com or download.com that are certified to be malware free.
- Do other people trust the software, URL or file? Do a Google search on a software title before you download it. Pay particular notice of online forums – if other people have been scammed, you’ll be sure that there will be word about it on the Internet!
- Be wary of any offers that are ‘too good to be true’. Believe me: these offers always are.
- Be wary of ‘short’ URLs that redirect you to an unknown site. Always use a “un-shortening” service to check the actual intended URL. Be especially aware of short URLs contained in IM messages, found on social networking sites and delivered by unknown accounts on Twitter.
3. Whoa! Don’t Click ‘Accept’ Yet!
Before you install a new program or sign up for a new online account, you are almost always presented with a long user agreement full of undecipherable ‘legalese’ phrases. These agreements are designed to describe the terms of service and protect both the user and the developer from any legal action resulting from the possible misuse of the application or account.
We’ve all been guilty of skipping past a End User License Agreement (EULA) by just clicking the “accept” button without reading the long-winded user agreement first. Malware developers are completely aware of this and often include terms that protect them from legal action by telling you that you are downloading a virus, adware or other PC bug by installing their ‘free’ application.
The number one rule is simple. Read before you accept. Pay particular note of any phrases that indicates that by downloading the software you authorize transmission of data to a third party.
A great free tool to use is the EULA Analyzer, found on the Malware Threat HQ website. While it’s no substitute for reading the EULA yourself, it will throw up any red flags that it finds.
4. Install a Firewall
A firewall is a program that restricts the unauthorized transfer of data in and out of your computer. Firewalls are seldom installed as a standalone product these days, and the firewalls that are bundled with fully featured Internet Security Suites are top notch.
Once you have a firewall installed, you’ll need to “train” it to permit certain programs access to the Internet. For example, any software package that needs to be updated regularly will need to be excepted from the firewall’s rules. This can include Windows itself, Java, and any Internet Security or anti-spyware tools that you have installed on your computer.
The big rule here is to only authorize programs that you know and trust.
5. Install Real-Time Anti-Malware Software (And Use It!)
While modern Internet Security suites are doing a better job at identifying all malware risks, they are still a long way from perfect. A better option is to install a real-time dedicated malware protection application that will continually monitor your system and warn you of any potential threats before they install themselves on your computer.
There are many options available – including dangerous ‘rogue’ anti-malware software titles, so choose carefully. For a full review of the best options available, please visit the Malware Threat HQ website.
6. Use the Security Setting in Your Web Browser.
Regardless of the Internet browser that you use, you will be able to control the Internet security settings from within the options in the menu system. You should always set your security settings to ‘Medium’ or higher.
Browsers are always getting better, but some browsers are better than others. It is often considered that using Internet Explorer opens you up to the greatest risk of malware infection (cyber-crooks just love Microsoft products!). At Malware Threat HQ, we use and recommend Firefox by Mozilla for our Internet browsing. It has an unbeatable list of security features available as standard.
7. Keep Your Computer Updated.
Keeping your critical programs up to date is absolutely vital in preventing malware. The amount of malware being produced each day means that if you don’t have updated software, you will be left in the dust and make yourself vulnerable to new malware threats delivered by trojans and other viruses.
Of particular note, make sure that your Internet Security suite, anti-malware software and any program made by Microsoft (including Windows, Office and Outlook) is updated regularly. Malware developers love exploiting vulnerabilities in Microsoft programs and are always finding new ways of taking advantage of security weaknesses in the world’s most popular software titles.
Additionally, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may provide you with security updates that you should always accept.
Be Cautious, But Don’t Be Scared.
Remember that although malware can be dangerous, it should not prevent you doing what you want to do on the Internet. If you practise safe browsing, have a reputable security suite and an anti-malware solution installed and you regularly update your critical programs, you can usually avoid malware from ever being a problem on your computer.
Malware infection is incredibly wide spread. Whether or not you think you may have been infected with malware, it is best practise to scan your computer regularly for malware threats. At Malware Threat HQ you can download the best malware scanner available on the Internet today — for free.
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