Protecting your computer…

…And Your Pocketbook

If you own a computer, you have to worry about viruses, spyware, SPAM, and pop-ups, more generally known as malware.  Malware is annoying and sometimes harmful, and few people know how to avoid getting malware on their personal computers.  Preventing it is actually quite easy and can be done with a little thought, a few hours and no money down.

Get good virus protection

Malware, or malicious software, is a term describing computer programs that can appear on your computer from the internet, a USB drive, or anything else that stores information.  Spyware and viruses, the two most common forms of malware, can both be avoided by a good virus protection program.

Spyware is software that spies on you.  Spyware gathers small pieces of information about you and reports it back to an individual or company, who can sell it or use it for themselves.  Spyware is dangerous because once it has infected a computer, it can learn your habits and track your activities.

A virus is usually more harmful than spyware.  A virus is a computer program that can damage your computer and corrupt or destroy the information on it.  Viruses are usually downloaded from the internet by users themselves.  You may believe you are downloading software from a website, but download a virus instead.

Viruses and spyware can be difficult to remove once they have affected a computer, but you can keep your computer safe with antivirus software.  Free antivirus software is available on the internet for anyone to download.

Only one virus protection program should be installed, and it should be updated frequently.  Antivirus software does no good if it is out of date.

Users should also make sure the firewall on his or her computer is turned on.  Your firewall can be found in the control panel of your PC.  Its purpose is to allow you to connect to the internet, while letting you know if you attempt to connect to a suspicious site, or if a site tries to download anything onto your computer.

A few good antivirus programs that can be found free on the internet are:  Avast, AVG, Avira, Ad-Aware, and Comodo.  Antivirus software such as Norton, Microsoft Security Essentials, Kaspersky, and McAfee can be purchased as well.  This software should be downloaded from a secure, trusted website.  Use the websites maintained by the company from which you want to buy the antivirus program, or use CNET for general downloads.

SPAM, Pop Ups, and Downloading

SPAM is junk mail that appears in your inbox.  SPAM is annoying, but sometimes harmful as well.  An email from someone you don’t know may contain malware, and opening it may infect your computer with a virus.

Several methods exist to control SPAM.  The best way to avoid it is not to enter your email address online unnecessarily.  Make sure the website to which you are submitting your email address is a site you trust.  Do not post your email address in a chat room or forum where anyone who wishes may have access to it.

Use your email settings to your benefit.  Most email accounts have SPAM filters built in.  By changing a few settings, you can have suspicious emails sent straight to your SPAM folder.  If a junk email bypasses the filters and lands in your inbox, simply click the SPAM or junk mail button and it will automatically move to the SPAM folder.  This will let your email service provider know that you do not wish to receive emails from that address in the future.

Never reply to a SPAM email, even if the email claims that it will remove you from its email list.  By replying at all, you are verifying there is someone reading the email, and it might make your SPAM problem worse.

Pop-up advertisements are another way that malware may be downloaded to your computer.  In your web browser, make sure you turn on your pop-up blocker.  Also, do not click on advertisements in the margins of sites you do not trust.

Do not fall for the pop-up that wishes to enter you in a sweepstakes, but requires that you enter your personal information beforehand.  This is a scam, and usually companies that run scams like this sell your information to others without your permission.  Another popular scam is the one claiming you can make money working from home.  The internet ad claims people around the world are doing it, and all you have to do to make a salary is have packages sent to your house and mail them out again.

Be careful where you download software and other digital material.  If you find yourself on a website you have never heard of and it has a lot of pop-ups, you should probably find another place to download what you need.  Sometimes people download viruses and spyware to their own computers by clicking on something online.  Try to stay on sites you recognize and trust.  Offers too good to be true are often indications someone is trying to harm you.

Security for Macs

Most people think that Macintosh computer do not get viruses, and in the past, this has been true.  The reason Macs don’t usually get viruses is simply that more people use Microsoft Windows machines, so most virus programs are written for those.  Macs are capable of getting malware, and as more people switch to Mac computers, more viruses will be developed for the Mac operating system.  You should use antivirus protection even if you have a Mac.

Sources:  Discovery News, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Federal Communications Commission, Reader’s Digest, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Computer Hope.

Cody Newbold holds a degree in Computer Engineering Technology from Middle Tennessee State University and is employed by a consumer electronics company in Nashville, TN.

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