Thursday, June 10, 2010

Let's Talk




There are many good anti-virus and anti-spyware solutions on the market. Thousands of dollars a day are spent by individuals, businesses, and organizations to combat viruses, spyware, trojans, worms, identity theft, hackers and the other hundreds and thousands of threats against the average computer.

What can you do to protect your machine, your information, and be safe on the web at the same time?

Easy. Be smart. The first step of security on the web begins with you. 

You are the first line of defense in protecting your computer.

It always amazes me how some people will open each and every email they receive. Whether they know the sender or not, they open it. They see a cute picture, an attachment, or a link to a site they can't resist clicking on. Then their computer starts behaving strangely. It runs slow. They open Internet Explorer and suddenly they are taken to a porn site, or a site other than their home page. Popups begin appearing on their desk top the minute the computer starts up. What happened?

Well, let me ask you this. If a complete and total stranger came to the front door of your home, would you immediately open the door and invite them in? I'd hope not! Yet, when you opened that email from the unknown sender you did that very thing. You opened the “door” to your computer and invited them in. Just as you would never open your home's door to a total stranger, you should never open any email unless it is from someone or some company you absolutely know and trust!

Another way you can get some nasty spyware or malware is through pop-up ads. You are happily browsing along, you go to a website about Jack Russell Terriers, and suddenly there is a pop-up on your screen, even though you never clicked on anything to generate a pop-up. The pop-up tells you that you just won a free prize, that you have a virus, or that 5, 10, even 30 or more types of spyware were just found on your computer. So, you do one of two things. First scenario: you click on the “ad" to find out you must send a fee to get your "free" prize, or the virus/spyware pop-up wants you to do a "free" scan or purchase their "total" solution to spyware, viruses and other forms of malicious malware. Second scenario: you clicked the “x” in the corner of the pop-up to close it.

Guess what? When you clicked that pop-up, you opened the door again! You didn't send money for your “free" prize, yet when you clicked that ad, you got a "free" piece of spyware, a virus, worm, or trojan. When you clicked that “x” you still got the malware because you clicked on that pop-up. The best way to close that pop-up is to go to your Windows toolbar, and right click on that pop-up and select close. If you can't do that, then close your browser altogether and restart it.

Another and very prevalent way of your PC being vulnerable is, by not utilizing automatic updates. Automatic updates are “patches” for security holes or flaws in different programs or components on your computer. Microsoft updates these programs and by using automatic updates, or by going to the Windows Update website you can allow the program updates to be downloaded and installed on your machine. You particularly want to add any updates that are listed as “critical”, as these are programs that have been identified as having a serious security flaw. The excuse that it takes too much time to download and install updates, or that it slows your computer down to use automatic updates so you don't do them is, to put it bluntly...stupid.

The next thing to do, especially since we are talking updates, is to keep your anti-virus, anti-spyware, firewall, and other security programs updated. Do the updates for these programs on a weekly basis at a minimum. Only doing them once a month or whenever you happen to think of it is asking for trouble. The creators of viruses, trojans, worms, and other forms of spyware and malware are working on, producing, and releasing new forms and variants of these nasty programs every day. That is one reason I have my security programs set to check for updates and install them, once a day.

Lastly, if you are happily surfing the web, or you click on an item to download, and your anti-virus goes off, that is it gives you a warning, and asks you what you want to do, do not close it and ignore the warning! There is a reason you have the anti-malware program on your computer, and if you ignore it when it is doing its job, you are not holding up your end of the deal by not following the warning!

I recall a woman calling in for technical support for an ISP I used to work for. Her computer would attempt, and fail to connect for hours at a time. After going through several troubleshooting steps, I found out that she had been using a "peer-to-peer file sharing program" and had attempted to download an update for Windows XP (even though she was using Windows 98), and that she did have anti-virus installed which had warned her that the download contained a virus. She told me that she closed the anti-virus and downloaded the "update" anyway! I told her she would be best served by taking her computer to a technician who could remove the virus and probably reinstall Windows. She told me, “but I don't want to lose my files and photos". She failed to realize that in essence she had already lost her files by ignoring her anti-virus.

To recap, here are the basic steps for making your web experience a safe and happy one:
  1. Only open emails and attachments from people or companies you know and trust!
  2. Be leery of any pop-up that appears on a page if you did not click a link that generated that pop-up.
  3. Use automatic updates on your PC or go to the Windows Update page on a weekly basis to download and install all critical updates.
  4. Keep your anti-virus, firewall, anti-spyware, and all security programs updated on a weekly basis at the minimum.
  5. Never ignore any warnings from your anti-virus or other security programs
Yes, the first line of defense begins with you, and if you aren't smart in how you use the web, then all the security programs in the world will not do you any good.
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