The need for virus protection has never been greater. There are thousands of viruses, worms, Trojans, rootkits, malware, and spyware out there just waiting for you to drop your guard. Everyone is susceptible to a computer virus attack, everyone. Yes, I mean you! Even if you own a Macintosh or Linux Machine.
One of the greatest myths of today is that the Macintosh cannot get a virus. Since the Mac operating system is based on BSD Unix, the operating system that experienced the very first computer virus, it is unbelievable that people still perpetuate this myth. While it is true that Windows based system experience the majority of malware attacks, the number and types of attacks directed against Mac and Linux based machines has increased dramatically in the last few years.
What can a computer attack do to me?
The results of a computer virus can range from the merely annoying to the catastrophic. You might just have to deal with annoying popup messages, or be redirected to to a website selling Viagra, whether you need it or not. At the far end of the scale, you can lose every file on your hard drive and be unable to even start your computer at all.
A common type of attack will capture your email contacts and take over your personal email account, sending fake emails to all your contacts, supposedly from you, with links to a website. The website might be benign (again some pharmacy offering discount prices for those drugs we can't live without) or it may have a virus that now tries to infect the recipient's system. So you spread the love.
Other programs remain hidden to capture your keystrokes and report back your passwords to things like your bank account, or credit cards. One day you wake up and have no money. The presence of malware on your computer can also slow your machine down and make your internet connection slower.
And one last thing. If you get a computer virus, you can infect other users on your network. When Pavlov Media determines that you have a virus on your system and it is affecting our network, your internet connect will be disabled until you correct the problem. See Virus Quarantine for more information.
How can I protect myself?
Fortunately, all is not lost. Taking a few simple precautions can keep the hackers at bay. Remember, the best defense is a good offense. A few simple precautions will let you live in a virus free environment.
Get and run a good Anti-Virus program.There are many good anti-virus programs available, some are free and some can be quite costly. But they are cheap compared to fixing the damage a computer attack can cause. If you are a student, there might even be an anti-virus program available from your college or university.
Some of the most common commercially available programs are:
- Norton Antivirus Products
There are many more programs out there, just do the research to find the program that fits you best. Be sure to have it running and perform regular virus scans to keep your system clean.
- Run a firewall. Most operating systems come with a software firewall built-in and turned on by default. Most of the anti-virus programs come with their own software firewall. If you have a router, most of them also have a firewall capability built-in. Make sure you have at least one of your firewalls enabled. This will make it more difficult for a hacker to find a backdoor into your system.
- Use complex passwords. A simple way to reduce the chance that a hacker can capture your password and take over your accounts is to use complex passwords. The more complex the better. We all have a tendency to want a simple password that we can remember, but this leaves us at risk to password cracking programs. You should have a password that mixes upper and lower case, numbers and letters, and punctuation symbols. This becomes very difficult to crack.
- Use a computer based email client. A lot of people have an email account from Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, MSN, etc. for the convenience of having a stable email address even when they change living location or Internet Services Provider. This is fine as far as it goes, but many also use the web-based email client through their browser to send and receive their email. Hackers absolutely love this. If they can hack your password, they can then send malicious email to all your contacts and change your password so you can no longer access your own email. Change your password regularly and use a complex password.
You should use a computer based email client. Your operating system already comes with one, most likely. In Window there is/was Outlook Express or Windows Mail. For the Mac, there is Apple Mail. You can also purchase a commercial email client or find an open source email client, such as ThunderBird, for free. These programs download your email from the internet to your computer and can be set to erase the file from internet during the download. Your contacts will be kept on your own computer, not in an internet file a hacker can get to. And the anti-virus program will check each email as it downloads and catch those containing a virus before it can do harm.
- Don't open questionable email attachments. This is where a good virus protection program will help you. They scan the incoming email and any attachments for malware that may be present. If you don't run an anti-virus program and open that attachment, you can introduce a virus to your system and not even know it until the virus triggers. This is the second leading cause of viruses on computer systems.
- Be careful when you are surfing the web.The leading cause of computer viruses comes from clicking on links in questionable web sites. A good internet security/anti-virus program can really help. The good ones have identified known malware sites and warn you before you try to go to that site. They can also stop an attack cold if you end up on a site that launches an attack against your system.
- Beware of files from friends. If your friend hands you a flash drive with a file or video, or whatever: scan it first! Use the antivirus program to scan the drive before you open any file on it. Your friend may honestly not know that there is an infected file on the drive. By scanning the drive first, you eliminate the possibility, and may save a friendship by not having to yell at the person that just crashed your computer and lost 6 months of work you can't replace!
- Backup your data files regularly. If the worst case scenario occurs and you have no choice but to reinstall the operating system to clear malware from your system, having current data files will save you a lot of heartache - and time needed to get back up and running.
By being reasonably careful and keeping your protection system working and up-to-date, you should never have to worry about getting the dreaded computer virus. However, if you should find that your device has contracted a virus, please refer to the Virus Cleaning Instructions in this knowledgebase.