Malware is everywhere.
That sounds frightening, but it’s true. It comes in both sneakily official (statistical tracking tools from big corporations) and purely malicious (destructive viruses or privacy mining software) forms, and it can arrive in many different ways: email, web download, physical media, torrents, and more.
While malware is an ever-present threat, it’s something that can readily be handled, given the right tools and actions, along with some old-fashioned common sense. The following tips will make up your best defense against malware in its many forms.
1. Use anti-malware tools
When it comes to protection from malware, you have many applications to choose from. Each comes with their pros and cons — some may have other features you want, some may run faster, some may take more system resources, some may be free but with limited options. Whichever one you select, make sure you have one on your computer and that you’ve given your system a complete scan once it’s installed. Anti-malware software acts as both a preventative defense and clean-up tool; in short, it’s an absolute necessity for every system.
2. Run regular scans with an anti-malware tool
You’ve installed your anti-malware tool and your system looks clean. Are you in the clear? Yes, but only for the moment. Remember, any file that arrives on your system can be malware, so it’s important to run scans at regularly scheduled intervals. And if your computer starts showing typical malware symptoms, manually start a scan.
3. Keep your software and operating system updated
Software patches can be annoying – they often arrive at inopportune times and slow you down in order to download and install the updates. However, from a security perspective, they’re absolutely vital. All manners of applications, whether it’s a media player or Microsoft Office or your operating system, can have a “backdoor” (hidden ways for malware to access private data). These are accidents left behind by the developers, and part of the updating process is eliminating any post-release backdoors they find. Thus, running updates is important for keeping a secure system, so make sure you take the time to do it.
4. Scan downloads
Just because you download something doesn’t mean you have to install it right away. Just about any file type has the possibility of containing hidden malware, but the most important files to scan are executable files: installers, application launchers, scripts, etc. These files matter because running them gives them permission to write data to your system, unlike a media file such as an image or MP3 that is merely viewed/played by an application. To be absolutely safe, use your malware tool to scan the file before you download it. Many modern malware tools integrate with your web browsers to automatically scan files as they download, but it’s still good to run a manual sanity check – especially if it’s an unofficial source. Also, turn off your browser’s option to open downloaded files automatically.
5. Use your common sense!
Get an email from a friend with a strange message and an even stranger link? Wonder why you got a notification about winning money or a laptop or something you didn’t enter? The Internet is filled with people preying on random people willing to make that extra click, so don’t be one of them. The best way to protect yourself from malware is to use common sense. If you see something that looks strange, ask the supposed email sender if they fired off a message or do a quick Google search to see if that email you got is the latest scam (a search usually produces a fast explanation). Just remember that there’s usually nothing so pressing that it can’t wait a few minutes to check it out. At the same time, it’s a good idea to regularly backup your critical files so that you can recover from any destructive malware.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for malware protection. Instead, you’ll need to use a combination of software tools and your own smarts to get through it. With these at your side, you’ll be able to comfortably surf the web without worrying about malware — and even if some malware infects your system, you’ll know how to handle the situation.