All computers are susceptible to viruses, and malicious software no matter what operating system is used. However, Windows machines are the primary target of these attacks, so we offer some tips to help you protect your computer from becoming infected. We will go a bit further than recommending staying offline, which is probably the most effective, but still not completely secure. This article is meant to cover the basics of virus prevention while trying to use simple terminology and generalized explanations.
Well, how do you prevent your computer from getting infected in the first place when the Internet is just full of complex risks. Sadly, as long as you use the Internet there really is no way to prevent unwanted programs from silently installing themselves on your hard drive. Simply visiting a malicious, or corrupted website can allow an attacker to take over your computer, or make it a member of a botnet. If your computer is attacked there may be no signs anything has happened or is wrong. You go about your business as usual, but in the background your computer could be sending copies of files, or recording your keystrokes, even watching you via a webcam.
The most basic of prevention steps would be to update the operating system, and use a current (meaning the latest version) anti-virus program that has updated virus definitions as well, when combined they can be very effective against many different types of attacks.
The first line of defense is to install an anti-virus and/or malware programs. Windows 8 and Windows 10 come with anti-virus installed, so it is not critical to install a third party anti virus on these operating systems. However, Microsoft is not charging money for Windows Defender so it would seem they don't try as hard, and they do tend to have a lower detection and removal ratings than other companies that charge for their products. Yet, it is in Microsoft's best intrerest to provide a quality tool to help mitigate issues with their products. So, Windows Defenders performance may improve over time.
Numerous viruses are created daily and have to be discovered for an anti-virus company to block, and repair the damage or changes made to the computer system. Even though the end user is dependant on these companies protecting their computers, users are at their mearcy for the most part, yet most companies are quick to respond with a fix. It is a lot easier waiting for a fix than trying to repair an infected computer. Basic protection is easy and keeping a computers operating system up to date, with an up to date anti-virus can go a long way to securing any PC.
It is more important than ever to take your online privacy seriously. The internet is constantly being scanned by somebody who wants to steal your money and/or profit off everything you do online. Knowledge is power and limiting the amount of personal information you provide or post to websites can help tremendously. A simple example would be to use your dogs name as your password, and post pictures with details of you, and your dog. Your computer is being bombarded constantly with pings (communication attempts via the Internet) from other computers trying to find weaknesses or open ports in your system. There are computers constantly looking for a way in, keep the door closed by installing a wireless router.
A proactive approach to computer security using common sense helps tremendously when it comes to your computers integrity, keep yourself up to date on current security risks and keep your preferred security program up to date. What do I mean by preferred security program you ask? At the minimum that would be an anti-virus program. Either a free or paid version will do. Many times people are unaware if they even have an anti-virus program installed. Others have expired subscriptions that are years out of date, which is like having no protection at all. Having an anti-virus program installed, and monitoring the status of the anti-virus program can save you money, time, and who knows how many headaches. Be sure to remove any expired or unwanted anti-virus programs before installing a different branded one.
Windows XP is no longer supported by Microsoft making Windows XP a bit more vulnerable than it was, but that really doesn't matter to many users. It was some time ago but the example is a good one, we received a laptop for repair that had an expired version of Norton 2002 installed. The year was 2014, that is 11 years or more of pop ups stating Norton had expired, and no one cared, and just closed, and ignored the pop up. The laptop had some Windows updates installed, so someone took the time to keep Windows updating until Windows service pack 2, however, in 2008 Microsoft stopped supporting computers running Windows XP service pack 2. Even though the software was out of date the laptop was free of viruses, and malware. How is this possible? Presumably this laptop spent little time online, and signs of normal wear and tear were not there suggesting it was rarely used.
There are many that swear you don't need to use anti-virus. We just prefer to use them, and recommend everyone does too. The cleaner everyone's personal computers are the better it is for everyone.
One of the problems with Windows security is most new computers come with a trial version of some anti-virus preinstalled, and so the user doesn't know or remember the name of the product. They turn on their new personal computer and answer some questions, then check a few boxes, fill out a registration form, and Windows starts up. They are usually a bit hurried to play with their new toy to care about what anti-virus program they are running, they just know or assume it comes with the new computer, and therfore they are protected.
Microsoft Windows 8 tried to address this problem with Microsoft Security Essentials being pre-installed. The version that comes with Windows 8 is called Windows Defender and it runs hidden in the background, only showing pop ups for activity. Offering no regular information to the end user could lead them to believe they have no anti-virus installed and that seems to be a bit of a step backwards. The version of Windows Defender that comes with Windows 8 cannot be uninstalled, so when installing an anti-virus it does not need to be removed.
With Windows 10 Microsoft has changed the behavour of Windows Defender and it now has pop up and it behaves more like a traditional anti-virus program. Windows 10 users do not need to spend extra money, or suffer the performance hit that comes with using third party anti-virus tools unless they really want to, or they are offered free form their inttrernet service provider.
Anti virus programs are worthless if you do not keep them up to date, and run them often. So, regularly update and scan your computer for viruses and spyware with the product of your choice. If you have an older PC this can a bit of a nuisance since it can really slow it down and take a very long time to complete a full scan. This is why many people uninstall anti-virus programs and/or choose to forget them. Modern anti-virus programs were not written for older hardware, so the only way to speed up the scan is to get a faster computer.
Again, having an outdated program such as a 2011 version when the current version is 2013 is no different than having no anti-virus installed. Most people do like like to have to pay a yearly subscription fee, and let there anti-virus get out of date. It would seem manufactures want users to purchase any version of their program and install it regardless if it is out of date. That is not all that bad since most manufactures allow upgrades to the current version, but they do nothing to let the end user know that they must download a new version every year. Version changes come yearly around the fourth quarter. This is up to the manufacturer. However, they all follow a general yearly version change.
Remembering to scan can be a problem for some, so it is recommended that you set your anti-virus program to automatically scan your computer at least weekly. To keeps things simple leave the program set to defaults, which should offer sufficient protection for most users. Defaults simply means use the standard settings the program or device comes pre-set with. There is no one product with 100% coverage against all of the risks out there. You still need to be smart when surfing the web, and if you install the malware yourself then your anti-virus program may not be able to catch it until it is too late. Being smart and using common sense can help prevent you the user from infecting your own PC. The Internet is full of FREE items, and it is best to remember there is always a catch, and when is anything truly free.
It is tougher than every to download a product safely from the internet. Companies trying to make money off of installations include many unwanted programs. These programs are known as potentially unwanted programs or (PUPS). Many times these products are legitimate, and need to be uninstalled using the programs built in uninstaller. Some of the more considerate program packages have small check boxes that need to be unchecked to prevent the installation of additional programs. However, this leaves the unexperienced to do nothing and just install everything.
Truly malicious potentially unwanted programs (PUPS) are another thing entirely and should not be taken lightly. There are tools designed especially for malware removal of this type. Malware or malicious software attack computers in various ways, way too many to cover here, so we will concentrate on stopping them before they get installed. PUPS with bad intent can cause system crashes, and possibly the classic Windows XP Blue Screen of Death. Malware is changing faster than viruses these days, so they are the ones to be on the lookout for. To protect against malware be sure to install a malware scanner along with your anti-virus of choice. Always check for compatibility issues between the anti-virus and malware tools you use. The easiest way to test this without searching the web is to install your anti-virus after installing the malware program. If there is an issue a quality program will alert you to the incompatibility.
An unpatched operating system and no virus protection leaves you exposed to drive by malware installers. Simply going to the wrong website can wreak havoc in no time. Though not a guarantee having an anti-virus, and updating Windows is a simple form of protection that is better than nothing.
When selecting an anti-virus product it is best to give the program of choice a test run by using a trial version. It may seem like work but its better than having your PC come to a screeching halt every time a scan runs or have the boot time increased by minutes. Paying around sixty dollars for a program that does nothing but irritate you really should be avoided. Almost year round anti-virus manufactures offer rebates on their programs, and it is possible to buy last years version at a lower price and get a free upgrade to the current version. Not all manufactures allow this, so check their website prior to purchase.
Some internet service providers provide free anti-virus, and software based firewalls with their service. We recommend if your internet service provider offers a product then simply choose it. Before installing a new anti-virus uninstall any other installed anti-virus programs. Having two different anti-virus installed can be as bad if not worse than a virus.
There are generally two types of virus scanners always on and on access scanners. If you have a fast computer an on access or real time scanning program is a good idea. On access simply means that every time you open a file or do just about anything for that matter the file is scanned for viruses. Scanning everything every time you run it does slow down access times especially with large files or opening big programs. However, it would seem to have more potential to catch a virus before it runs, yet this has not been proven true.
The constant or always on scanner scans for activity but does not scan each and every file accessed. Usually the anti-virus programs scanner will run a quick scan, a daily scan, or weekly scan depending on settings. This has been proven effective, yet potentially leaves the computer exposed. Like on access scanners always on scanners have not proven them to be more effective than the other.
There is a lot of debate on which scanner type is better and we leave that up to the end user to decide what's best for them. Any anti-virus is better than nothing as long as it does not cause performance issues.
Having an anti virus program up to date and running is important, but common sense is most important when it comes to the internet. Don't just click on every link, especially links in email and internet forums. Before you click take a moment and think about who's site is it that you are on, and why do you need to access the link directly? It may be better to simply Google the link and see what results are returned. Then select the appropriate link.
Very popular or politically charged topics should not be searched, since the results are commonly poisoned with phony links. These links are designed to get you onto sites that install malware at the moment you click the link. A really slow loading site could be trying to load something prior to the page loading. There is money to be made by controlling your computer or monitoring what you do with it, so be wary.
Installing commonly used spyware tools prior to having troubles can really make virus repair much easier. There are many free tools available, some good malware programs are Malwarebytes, Spybot and AD-Aware. These programs can be helpful, however they must be kept up to date or they will be ineffective against new threats. There is no one program that will protect against all threats, so it is better to have options. However, you can only have one anti virus program installed at a time. Most anti virus will prevent you from installing more than one, but that is not always the case, so be sure to check that all anti-virus have been removed before installing one.
Microsoft Windows has a handy feature built in called System Restore. It allows the user or Windows to create restore points that in time of crisis can be used to repair the computers file system. This is good and bad, if a virus infects the restore point that would be bad. However, if you get a virus and use a restore point to repair your PC and it works, that would be good. Whenever a PC gets infected there is always a risk of a corrupted, or infected restore point(s). If the restore points are used to repair a PC or they are not working then it is best to repair the computer and delete all current restore points. Accidently going back to an infected time by choice would be bad. A better way is to use programs like Acronis True Image which are an excellent ways to protect from data loss due to viruses, but also drive failure. Why repair the damage of a virus when you can restore your computer back to when it was clean.
Personal computers are like anything, they run much smoother if maintained properly. PCMD recommends that routine maintenance on your computer be done monthly if not weekly. Clear out you internet cache, temp files, and check to see if any new programs were installed without your knowledge. Every now and again manually run Windows update to be sure it is operating properly. Windows update is working properly if it is downloading and installing updates. Pay attention to any increase in noise, and dust the interior yearly.
People often say they have nothing on their computer worth worrying about, or they say something like they don't have anything worth stealing. To put it simply repairing the damage of a virus infestation will cost you time and possibly money, both are worth protecting.
Virus targeted for removal.