Whenever you visit a website, there is a very slight chance that your computer will be attacked. Security software provides good protection, but does not mean that your PC will never be infected. It pays to be cautious and vigilant when it comes to preventing remote attacks, as our guide explains.
Whenever you visit a website, there is a chance that your computer will be ‘attacked’. Most sites are safe, but even the most reputable companies can be infected. Websites offering screensavers, pirate software or games, music downloads and other something-for-nothing attractions are more likely to be infected.
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You can reduce the risk of being attacked by installing the WOT (Web Of Trust) browser add-on, McAfee SiteAdvisor, or a similar program.
If your PC runs Microsoft Windows, there are three things you should do to protect your security:
Keep software up to date
Today, most malware attacks are mounted by criminal gangs who have found ways of infiltrating known security weak spots.
It’s important, therefore, to install the monthly updates that Microsoft delivers via its Windows Update service. Click the ‘Start’ button and select ‘Windows Update’. Microsoft’s website will check your PC and recommend a range of updates for you to install. Some are more important than others (you can pick the ones you want), but you should always install the ones marked ‘Critical’.
Over the past few years, Microsoft has improved its security measures, and Windows 7 is more secure than XP. In response, attackers have turned their attention to other software.
It’s therefore important to make sure you are running the latest versions of Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, Sun’s Java and any Apple software you have installed. Microsoft Office and Office viewers also need security patches, especially Excel. Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector, a free download, will check your PC to see if you have any programs that need updating.
Most malware attacks now come via the web browser, so again, it’s important to have the latest version of your browser installed. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) is safer than previous versions, and you should install it even if you don’t use it.
Historically, Mozilla’s Firefox browser has been safer than Internet Explorer, and Google Chrome seems to be the safest today. Chrome is run inside a ’sandbox’ so that the attackers need to get through two layers of security in order to infect your PC - one in Chrome, and one to get out of the sandbox. Criminal gangs value their time, and it’s more profitable to spend it on easier targets.
Run an anti-virus program
You should also run anti-virus software. There are lots of good free programs available, including Microsoft Security Essentials. Alternatives include Avira AntiVir Personal Edition, Avast! Free Antivirus, and AVG Free. Kaspersky is good too – but you’ll have to pay for that program.
If you are changing your anti-virus software, check the supplier’s website to see if there is a removal tool to remove it completely. When you have uninstalled it, take the time to run MalwareBytes Anti Malware (MBAM) and SuperAntiSpyware to check that your PC is clean. (Microsoft also offers a free antispyware program, Windows Defender.)
Never under any circumstances install anti-virus software in response to a pop-up, and never pay for such a program. There are dozens of fake anti-virus programs that pretend to find malware on your PC and - after you have paid up - pretend to remove it. Also, never do business with a company that phones you out of the blue and says it can solve a problem with your PC.
Turn on your firewall
A firewall is a device that increases the security of computers on the internet by controlling the connections that can be made between them.
The firewall sits between your computer and the internet and permits or blocks connections between your PC and other computers on the net, according to rules defined by you. This makes it more difficult to launch attacks on your computer.
All updated copies of Windows XP and later versions have built-in firewalls, which provide the minimum protection required.
There are more sophisticated free firewalls, such as Outpost Firewall Free, Comodo Internet Security, and Online Armor Free. However, these require more work, and more understanding of your PC.
Security software provides good protection, but that does not mean that your PC will never be infected. Many attackers now trick users into installing malware. For example, you may be lured by a message on a social networking site to watch an amusing or sexy video, but you’ll have to install a new codec to see it.
The codec is malware - probably a simple ‘Trojan’ that will download more noxious malware later. (A Trojan is a program that pretends to be something it isn’t.) Sometimes Trojans are hidden in pirate software and in tempting files on file-sharing systems.
No software can completely protect users - but it pays to be careful with what you download and to make sure you have up-to-date software installed to help prevent your computer from being infected.