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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Computer Viruses... Am I at Risk?

One of the most common things I see as an IT professional is infection. Viruses, Spyware, Key-Loggers, etc. Infections like this can cause serious issues on your machine and lead to costly downtime. Depending on the severity of the infection, the cure can take a long time, which in turn ends up becoming expensive!

Unfortunately there is no 100% bulletproof protection from these things. Your anti-virus can’t cure a virus it’s never seen, so viruses on day-1 can go by unnoticed all together. However, there are steps that you can take to help avoid the initial infection. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Anti-Virus
Even though an anti-virus software isn’t much protection against brand-new viruses, they’re usually updated only a couple hours after they’ve discovered the threat. It’s very important that you have an anti-virus software installed, running, and updating. Don’t assume that because you installed an Anti-Virus software two years ago, that it’s protecting you. Make sure that you check the program to find out when the last time it was updated.

If you are looking for an Anti-Virus program, make sure you do your homework! There are lots of programs out there that say they’re anti-virus, like “Anti-virus XP”. These programs only look like anti-virus programs. They’re actually viruses! These are called Rogue Anti-Virus programs. Make sure to ask your IT professional, or a knowledgeable source if the program you’re considering is legitimate.

Some legitimate Anti-Virus names:
  • TrendMicro
  • AVG
  • Norton
  • McAfee
  • Avast

Anti-Malware
Even if your Anti-virus is up and running, updating and catching threats, you can’t rely on it alone. Anti-Spyware programs can be effective in removing things that aren’t technically viruses. Things like spyware can sneak into your machine the same way viruses do, but they don’t always set off alarms like a viruses.

Once again, there are programs out there that pretend to be anti-spyware programs, but are actually spyware themselves.

Some legitimate Anti-Spyware names:
  • Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware
  • Super Anti-Spyware

Computing Practices
As I’d stated earlier, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  • Do not click on any popup advertisements. If you get a popup, click on the outer-most edge of it as though you’re trying to resize the window to activate it as the current focus, and press Alt+F4. This should close the popup window.
  • Never open attachments you weren’t expecting, especially if it’s from someone you don’t know. If you aren’t expecting an attachment, email the sender back and ask what it is, and if they meant to send it. No one can fault you for being cautious.
  • Be careful installing browser add-ons from websites that say “you must install this software to properly view this webpage” unless you’re sure of exactly what the software is.
  • X-rated, or serial number cracker websites are always laden with viruses. It’s best to stay away from them.
  • Never use peer to peer programs for the downloading of files. Programs like Limewire are littered with infected files.
  • As always, if you’re uncertain of something, always ask someone knowledgeable. As an IT professional, I’d much rather tell someone “It’s a bad idea to open that file” rather than “That file you opened infected your computer, and fixing it could take hours”.