Domainmonster.com Domain Editorials
Viruses: Protecting Your Computer
Computer viruses are pieces of software which will attempt to change or prevent normal use of your computer, erase files, damage your system, or monitor your behaviour. Before the advent of the internet, viruses used to be spread on removable storage devices such as floppy disks. Nowadays, most viruses attempt to attack via the internet, in infected emails and downloads. The purpose of malware could simply be to disrupt or annoy, but some viruses can destroy files and even render hard drives completely unusable.
Computer users most at risk from virus attacks are those using Microsoft systems, simply because they make up the majority and are therefore most likely to be targeted by viruses. There are relatively few viruses aimed at attacking Unix-based platforms such as Macintosh's OS X.
Your Operating System
Keep your operating system fully up-to-date. Most operating systems will notify you when an update is ready. Make sure that you install these as soon as they become available. Often these updates are written precisely to deal with security weaknesses and loopholes that could be exploited by viruses.
Antivirus and Firewall Software
You need both antivirus and firewall software installed on your computer if you are using a Windows operating system (even if you are running Windows on an Intel Mac). AVG Anti-Virus and ZoneAlarm's firewall software are both free and perfectly adequate for most people's needs. There's no need to pay much (or anything) for antivirus or firewall software, and it's definitely not worth paying for market leader Norton Antivirus many people have likened it to a virus itself!
As with your operating system, you must make sure that your antivirus and firewall software are updated whenever necessary. You will find that this is quite often, as new virus fixes are always being added and loopholes closed off. You can usually tell your antivirus and firewall software to automatically download and install updates. Run full system virus scans regularly at least once a week. There are many free online scans available as well, which can be handy for comparing antivirus software.
Make sure your antivirus software is configured to scan all of your incoming and outgoing emails. One small disadvantage of the free AVG Anti-Virus software is that it stamps every email with "No virus found in this outgoing message. Checked by AVG Free Edition."
- Don't open any email attachments you dont trust. Disable the email preview pane which many POP3 email clients have, such as Outlook.
- Back up everything regularly. If the worst comes to the worst, you will be grateful for a comprehensive and recent backup. Ideally, use removable storage to back up your files.
- You can learn about current antivirus news in all sorts of locations on the internet, including McAfee's AVERT Alerts.
- Download only from reputable sites, and scan everything before you run it, particularly if you are downloading executables.
- Beware of hoax virus warnings telling you to delete files on your computer. There have been incidents of people deleting vital system files because of hoax virus warnings arriving in chain emails. If in doubt, check online for details.
- Even if an email is from a trusted friend, if you're not expecting an attachment, email them back and ask them if they meant to send it before you open it.
- There also exist pieces of software called spyware and adware which can monitor your online behaviour, steal personal information such as passwords or bank details, spam you with unwanted advertising, or change settings on your computer such as making it very difficult to change your homepage in your web browser. Some free software comes with adware bundled. Occasionally you can check or uncheck a box which says you don't want to have some "sponsorship software" installed. There is also software available for finding and removing all sorts of malware, including spyware and adware.
By Natalie Catchpole