7 Tips on How to Prevent Computer Viruses
We’ve all been annoyed with pop-ups, spam emails and all those nuisances that we encounter while browsing the Internet. But computer viruses are far from simply annoying.
While a virus making its way onto your computer isn’t necessarily the worst thing that can happen, they are continuously present and can spread fast through a network, infecting other computers and wrecking havoc once they get momentum. Any sensitive and confidential information that you store and transmit through your network can be compromised.
There are a lot of computer viruses that we see come through our shop. While we are happy to help our clients with their virus removal needs, we do believe that prevention is better than cure. Educating our clients on how to avoid viruses in the first place can make a far greater impact than simply patching them up after an infection.
To start, it’s important to note the difference between viruses and malware.
In everyday conversation in the media, we often see the terms “virus” and “malware” used interchangeably. Fortunately, most malicious programs today we hear of aren’t strictly viruses: pure computer viruses comprise less than 10% of all malware we see. But they are far from rare. A computer virus is a type of malware with a distinguishable feature that it needs to infect other files and programs in order to operate, and it does so by having the ability to copy itself.
Viruses can be transmitted through internal networks, the internet or a USB drive. This makes computer viruses particularly hard to remove. Here at the shop, we have encountered jobs where the virus was hiding in a client’s external USB drive the whole time. As soon as they get their clean computer home, they get the virus again.
Malware on the hand is programming that is intended to disrupt or deny operation, gather information or gain access to system resources. Malware encompasses all types of malicious software and besides computer viruses, there are worms, Trojans, ransomware, spyware, and many others. Because of this, many anti-virus programs do not have the ability to detect and remove all malware.
Preventing computer viruses from infecting your devices consists of cybersecurity best practices that can also ensure you are decently protected against other types of malware as well. We have prepared our best 7 tips on how to prevent computer viruses that we have grounded in our first-hand experience with our clients.
1. Keep your computer up to date
All operating systems on computers get frequent updates that enhance features but also include security patches that will fill security holes before cyber criminals do. While we know that updates are a bit of a pain, they are far less inconvenient thnt getting a virus on your computer. We encourage our clients to enable automatic updates on their computers in addition to running updates for programs such as Adobe and Java. Before you allow any updates, ensure that you are on a secured connection and not at a coffee shop for instance.
2. Don’t use Internet Explorer
Old habits can die hard but we now live in an exciting time. We have so many browsers to choose from. Whether you prefer Chrome, Firefox or Opera, any of those choices are safer than Internet Explorer. While the newer versions of Internet Explorer are an improvement over the past versions, they are still a far cry from the quality of Chrome or Firefox. We saw significant improvement in online security with our clients with just switching to a different browser. And when you choose a better browser — keep it updated!
3. Backup your computer
As in our cautionary tale above, some computer viruses just keep coming back and are just impossible to delete off of a computer. When this happens, there can be some of your own data removal involved. In other times, a virus removal will cause damage to the operating system. At these times, we might suggest a reinstall of the operating system. This shouldn’t really be a problem — if you have a backup strategy that is. Without a backup, there would be no way to recover the lost data. With your data backed up, the process of virus removal is quicker and more affordable. We recommend backing up all of your data, with sensitive information having priority. Apps such as Google Drive available in Google Workspace offer cloud storage with a large amount of space.
4. Anti-virus basics
Anti-virus software is the basis of computer virus protection — hence the name. While it’s important to have a quality anti-virus installed on your computer, there are some best practices to have in mind. Having more than one anti-virus solution on your network is a very unneeded and generally a bad idea. Computer viruses and malware get created and discovered daily. Your anti-virus solution is only as effective as its ability to be up-to-date on computer viruses that are a threat to you. For this reason, be sure your anti-virus program updates automatically and at a reasonable time — not 3am on Wednesday nights as it’s not likely that your computer will be turned on during that time and not at 2pm when you are sure to be in numerous meetings. This way the updates won’t be a hassle, and you will be sure you are protected against the most sophisticated viruses out there.
5. Avoid suspicious web sites
There are over a trillion web pages online right now. We spend lots of time browsing the internet, researching, shopping, communicating…and it all involves visiting different websites. While many standards have come out that make sure you are the very least notified you are about to enter an insecure and potentially dangerous website, cyber criminals have found ways to trick those standards and still show up as a legitimate site. Sometimes it’s impossible to see right away if the website hosts malicious content. But it is all in the details. Be sure to notice the URL of the web site, check on official sources if the website is real and actually is what it presents like. While obvious, the lock icon next to a URL is one of the first signs that you might be on a potentially malicious website.
6. Always scan email attachments
One of the oldest ways of infection, and one that made computer viruses so notorious in the early days of the internet is through email. Some people send viruses to their friends and not even know that they did it. At Altitude Integrations, we have encountered many situations where our clients have had their email accounts hacked. Once hacked, the attackers would use that account to send malicious content to the entire address book list. The most reliable way to make sure you are safe is to open an email attachment or click on a link is to scan it with anti-virus software. Your mail provider or email service you are using should also have some sort of email protection against viruses. In Gmail, for example, attachments are automatically scanned for viruses. If a virus is present, the email will be rejected and you will be notified.
7. Use a malware scanner
Anti-virus is important and you should invest in a robust solution, there is still a possibility for the virus to slip through the cracks and get downloaded to your computer. It can often lurk in your network, you being unaware of its presence. In order to make sure viruses don’t get the opportunity to spread further through your network and to minimize the damage, a weekly malware scan should be scheduled. Many of these programs are easy, affordable and sometimes even free and they can be used in combination with a backup, so to ensure no malicious files are backed up with your other files.
Symptoms of a computer virus
We can take all of the steps there are to prevent computer viruses, but an infection can sometimes just happen, and they can slip past your defenses. And when they are in, they aren’t exactly rushing to tell you that. There are however, some tell-tale signs that your computer has been infected with a computer virus:
- Computer has an unusually slow performance
- Unexpected and frequent crashes
- Increased number of pop-ups on seemingly normal websites
- Unfamiliar programs that prop up when you turn on your computer
- Changes to your homepage
We love to help our clients when they are in trouble. We also love to educate our clients on how they can stay out of trouble in the first place. Every day, there are more cybersecurity threats that are released into the wild. While it’s impossible to have a perfect virus protection strategy, the tips detailed above will help to minimize infection and increase the quality of your operations. If you suspect your, or a computer on your network is infected with a computer virus or you just want to learn how to better protect yourself — we’re here to help. Contact us and see how you can have a proactive approach to viruses, and other security threats.