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How to protect your computer from viruses and malware

Malware is a kind of software that is uploaded onto your computer without your consent that can affect your computer’s performance and compromise your security. It’s a catch-all term that encompasses viruses, worms, spyware, and more.

To stay safe online and secure yourself against the threat of cybercrime, it’s important that you do everything you can to protect your computer from malware in all its forms.

While computers and antivirus technology are constantly improving, so is the malware being developed by cybercriminals. According to a report by Secure List, the Kaspersky Security Network detected 171,802,109 malicious online attacks in 190 countries across the world in the third quarter of 2016 alone. Moreover, the independent IT security institute AV-TEST registers over 390,000 malicious programs every single day.

With all of this in mind, the need to protect your computer from the threat of malware and viruses is clear. As malicious software developers think of more ingenious ways to infect your computer and compromise your sensitive data, it’s important to take steps to ensure your online security.

Whether your computer has been infected by a virus, a Trojan, or spyware, your sensitive information is at risk of falling into the hands of a malicious third party. However, there’s plenty you can do to protect yourself from malware and keep your personal information secure.

Read on to find out everything you need to know to protect your computer from the latest malware.

Install a firewall

A firewall is a virtual barrier that sits between your computer and the internet to prevent unauthorised access to your network. It does this by analysing the data entering and exiting your home network and blocking any information from unknown or suspicious sources.

This is the first and most important line of defence for any computer, as it acts as a shield from most forms of attack from the outside world.

Computers operating on Windows XP SP2 and higher have a built-in firewall that is active by default, so you don’t need to do anything to be protected by it. To double-check if your firewall is active and help ensure your computer’s safety, use the search function within the start menu to find ‘Windows Firewall’ — if it isn’t already, set your ‘Windows Firewall state’ to ‘on’.

Install antivirus software (and keep it up to date)

install antivirus software

Alongside your firewall, a premium antivirus software is essential for maintaining a secure computer. However, paying for a top-of-the-range piece of software is only half the battle, as you won’t be protected from the latest types of malware if you don’t keep the program up to date.

In order to protect your computer from real-time developments in malware, always run antivirus software’s recommended updates. Failing to do so will leave you vulnerable to the latest threats.

Use strong and unique passwords

If a hacker gains access to one of your online accounts, they’ll easily be able to get into the rest of them if you aren’t protecting each one with a strong and unique password. You can use our random password generator to create a strong password for each of your online accounts, as well as learn how to keep track of them.

Be cautious on the internet

If you visit the wrong place on the web, you can quickly find your computer infected with a virus. Stick to these basic security guidelines to protect yourself from malware:

  • Don’t visit any websites that your browser flags as being infected with malware. Even if it's a website you trust, bear in mind that their security may have been breached by a hacker.
  • Never download a file from a website you don’t know and trust.
  • Check the URL of every hyperlink before you click it. Never visit a website that has a suspicious domain name — tell-tale signs of a malicious web address include a seemingly random combination of strange characters.
  • Set your social media accounts to private and be careful what kind of information you share on them.
  • Always provide the minimum possible amount of information when setting up an account online.

Shop online safely

shop online safely

Online shopping is extremely convenient and completely safe the vast majority of the time. However, to help ensure your computer remains free of malware and your sensitive details remain secure, you should follow these rules of thumb:

  • Only ever enter your card details into page if there is an illustration of a small padlock before the URL. This indicates that the site has SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed — a piece of code that prevents a third party from intercepting your card details. You can also tell if a page is SSL enabled because its URL will start with https:// rather than http://
  • Only ever give out the minimum of information when completing on online shopping order. The required fields are usually marked with an asterisk (*) — these tend to be your name, email, card details, and delivery address. If a site asks for any details that seem suspect, such as your passport or national security number, don’t proceed with the order.
  • Never make a purchase online while you’re connected to public Wi-Fi, such as in a library or café, as your computer is much more vulnerable to a cyber attack.
  • Be wary of any deal that seems too good to be true, especially on a website you aren’t familiar with.
  • If you’re spending over £100, use a credit card. This will ensure you’re protected by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, which will allow you to claim the money back from the credit card company on any purchase that turns out to be fraudulent.

Use email wisely

using email

Email is one of the most common avenues that hackers use to infect computers with malware. All it takes is clicking the wrong hyperlink or downloading an infected attachment from an email for your computer to become infected with malware, so it’s important to use email wisely in order to protect yourself.

Hackers often use phishing emails to infect unsuspecting recipients' machines with malware. However, most people are unaware of the threat unsolicited emails pose to their cyber security. In a study, Verizon Enterprise Solutions sent out 150,000 test emails that replicated a phishing email infected with malware — 23% of recipients opened the email, and an alarming 11% clicked on an attachment.

In order to ensure your online security, follow these rules of thumb when it comes to using email:

  • Never click a link or open an attachment in an email from a source you don’t trust. The same applies to any suspect emails you receive from your trusted contacts, as their account may have been hacked.
  • Be extremely suspicious of any email that asks you to share your personal or credit card details. Fraudsters will often send out emails designed to look like they are from your bank, credit card company, or a trusted retail site asking for financial details. If you receive an email like this, contact the company before you proceed.
  • Most major email clients come with a spam filter — make sure yours is turned on. Check this regularly to make sure emails from sources you know and trust aren’t wrongly being marked as junk.

How to spot a suspicious email

The majority of phishing emails share some common characteristics. Here’s what you should look out for:

  • The email includes a request for your important details like the username and password of your account, or your bank details.
  • The sender’s email address seems strange or doesn’t match the domain of the organisation it is claiming to be.
  • The message starts with a non-specific greeting such as “Dear customer” rather than your name.
  • The message contains poor spelling and grammar.
  • The email threatens to close your account unless you take urgent action (usually clicking on a link, downloading an attachment, or providing your important details).

If you’re ever in doubt about an email, always err on the side of caution and contact the person or company the email claims to have been sent from (getting their details from the official website) before clicking on anything or responding.

Keep your software updated

Software developers regularly release updates to fix glitches and security flaws within their programs and operating systems. Neglecting to perform these updates makes your computer vulnerable to the latest malware, so you should make sure you run them as soon as you are prompted.

It is particularly important to keep your web browser and operating system up to date. If you’re using a computer that runs on Windows XP, you should consider an upgrade — Windows stopped support for this operating system in 2014, leaving it vulnerable to infection from malware. Older computers may not be able to support a newer version of Windows, so you may need to upgrade your computer to ensure your online security.

Don’t use public Wi-Fi networks

careful when using public networks

Public Wi-Fi networks — such as those you find in a café, hotel lobby, or airport — are nowhere near as safe as you might imagine. When you join a network like this, your data becomes vulnerable to anyone else sharing it, so you should be extremely cautious.

If you must use a public Wi-Fi network, you should avoid doing any sensitive browsing like online banking or shopping if possible.

When you first connect to a network using a Windows laptop, a dialogue box will ask you whether you’re connecting to a home, work, or public network — select the latter whenever it applies for an additional layer of security. Even with this setting enabled, you should avoid entering any sensitive information into your browser when on a public network.

Keep an eye on your children’s online activity and educate them about digital safety

If you give your children access to your computer to play games and do their homework, you should be extra vigilant about your online security, as it can be easy for them to click the wrong link and accidentally infect your computer with spyware. Read our guide to keeping your kids safe online for tips on making sure your little ones stay secure while browsing the web.

Regularly back up your data

Repairing a computer infected with malware might mean restoring it to factory settings. It’s therefore a good idea to regularly back up your data so you don’t lose your important files should your computer be infected.

You can back your computer up in two ways — by using a physical external storage like an external hard drive, USB stick, or SD card, or a cloud storage service such as Google Docs or Dropbox. For documents and files you absolutely can’t afford to lose or that hold sentimental value to you, it’s a wise idea to back them up onto both an external hard drive and the cloud. This means that if worst comes to worst and you are infected by spyware, you won’t lose important documents and photos.

The symptoms of a computer infected with malware

computer infections

Unfortunately, there's no way to guarantee your digital security.

While each type of malware can cause a different host of problems for your computer, they all produce similar symptoms. Here’s what you should look out for:

  • Your computer slows down significantly, particularly when you’re using the internet
  • Your computer suddenly starts freezing or crashing
  • Programmes start booting up, turning off, or reconfiguring by themselves (particularly antivirus and firewall programmes)
  • Files are being modified or deleted by themselves
  • Someone informs you that they’ve received a suspicious email from your account you didn’t send
  • Your computer is showing a much higher CPU usage than usual

What to do if you think your computer has been infected with malware

If your computer is displaying these symptoms, you should take immediate action, as your security may be compromised. Change the password on all of your online accounts to a unique, strong password as soon as possible, and avoid using your computer for online shopping or email unless absolutely necessary.

LetUsFixIT customers can contact our technical support team if they think their computer might have a virus — we’ll login to your machine through our tune-up software, diagnose the problem, and advise you on the best next steps.

 

So, there you have it — everything you need to know to protect your computer from viruses, Trojans, spyware, and more. Follow these guidelines and you’ll drastically reduce your chances of being infected with a virus, and your sensitive information will remain as secure as possible.   

If you have any more questions about protecting your computer from malware or would like to know how our computer professionals can help ensure your online security, don’t hesitate to speak to a member of our team today.