What you really need to know about viruses and spyware – Part 2: How do I keep getting infected?

Computer network virusHopefully, Part 1 of this series helped you understand the nature and scope of spyware infections, and why they are much more prevalent and dangerous to the modern-day computing experience than viruses.  If you missed it, please read about it here before continuing on to part 2.  In today’s article, we’ll discuss ways to prevent getting infected in the first place, as well as dispelling some common spyware myths.

Protecting your computer network against virus/spyware attacks doesn’t have to be rocket science.  There are a few common mistakes people often make concerning virus protection, however, and I would like to start by disarming these time bombs now:

  • Good virus and spyware protection is available for free. That’s right, times are changing, and many companies (including Microsoft) are now offering virus protection packages for free.  Some of these free solutions even outperform the pay-to-protect competition.  More specifics on anti-virus packages in part 3 of this series.
  • Firewalls have nothing to do with it. Many people believe that because they have a software or hardware firewall that they don’t have to worry about virus protection.  This is a common misunderstanding.  A firewall prevents and allows network communication over certain ports, which is just a computer term for a “channel” that information travels along.  They are effective in stopping a hacker from getting into your network, but most viruses flow right through a firewall, since they use port 80, which is the same port that needs to be open for you to browse the web.  Speaking of web browsing:
  • Most modern viruses don’t “spread” across a network from one computer to another. Modern viruses will come to you in your email, or during a web browsing session.  Though viruses can spread across a network, or come to you on a disk or USB drive, most virus programmers have found that web and email infection are the easiest to program, and affect the most computers in the least amount of time.
  • No virus protection package catches everything. Since viruses are constantly being created, no protection package can ever stop them all.  When a new virus is unleashed, there is usually a 1-2 day period before anti-virus programmers detect the new virus, come up with a solution, and push it out to their software.  Hence, even the best scanning software is only about 80% effective.

So what do you do in light of such overwhelming odds?  First of all, get a good virus-protection package installed on your machine.  Again, specifics will be discussed in part 3, but make sure you install only one software package on your machine.  More than that will just interfere with each other, and slow down your machine.

Secondly, get a good email scanning program to keep out email-borne viruses.  If you are on a corporate network, hopefully your company has an email scanning package in place which cleans your mail before it ever gets to your computer.  Any business who is serious Spyware infection, Naples FLabout their data should have such a package, and the best one is called McAfee SaaS (formerly known as MX Logic).  More details on the capabilities of that package in a future article.

Another surefire way to get infected is to install file sharing software such as Limewire, Frostwire, Morpheus, etc.  These programs allow others to directly access your computer’s hard drive, and are about as unsafe as it gets.  If you must have your download fix, I recommend setting up a separate computer (one you don’t care about) to download on.  That way, if it gets infected, you can just wipe it and reinstall Windows without affecting your primary PC.  On a business network, these programs should absolutely never be used for about two hundred legal and safety reasons.

Finally, and most importantly, practice safe surf! This is very difficult to teach, but in a nutshell, you just have to be careful about what websites you browse, and what you click when prompted if you want to install that activeX control or download that file.  There are a few things to watch for, specifically:

  • Obviously unsafe, fly-by-night sights. These include sites that are selling Viagra, porn sites, advertising sites, or any other type of site that is selling something.  If the site is full of pop-ups and you get that tingling in your spine that tells you something is up, leave immediately.
  • “Typosquatting” sites. These are websites that depend on you to mistype the URL of the site and then direct you to a fake site where they try to sell you something, or infect you with a virus.  For example, people trying to visit www.youtube.com who accidently type www.yuutube.com are taken to a fake advertising site.  These can be hard to spot, so you have to be diligent.  Use your favorites or bookmarks to visit your favorite sites to avoid typos.
  • “Cybersquatting” sites. These are websites that register a common domain name, and hope that people will confuse the site for the real thing.  The most famous example of this is www.whitehouse.com.  People who think they are visiting the US government official website are actually taken to an advertising site.  (The real address for the US government is www.whitehouse.gov)
  • Emails with links. Even if an email comes from someone you know, beware of emails that try to link you to a website.  Sometimes viruses send these out to a person’s address book.  If you’re unsure, ask the sender if they meant to send you the link before opening.

Yes, the world is a scary, mixed-up place, but there are things you can do to fight back.  Use the tips above to keep yourself safe.  The best way to stomp out viruses is to avoid infection in the first place.  Once infected, there is never any guarantee that the virus can be removed completely.  In the third and final part of this series, I’ll talk about specific removal tools that you can use if you DO get hit with a virus.  In the meantime, stay safe!

Paul Nicodemi


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