Tech Tips

Computer Viruses – How to Protect Yourself

Computer viruses are the flu of the technology world. And just like viruses in the human world, you can help prevent infection.

Remember your mom yelling at you emphatically reminding you when you were a kid to wash your hands so you didn’t get sick?

Remember the doctor saying, “An ounce of prevention….”?

They were right weren’t they?

washing hands with soap under faucet
Scrubbing your computer with soap & water is NOT an effective virus removal method.

Viruses in the technology world aren’t much different.  Most computer viruses are preventable…and they’re more often than not acquired by something you clicked on.  That sounds terrible, but don’t feel bad.

The tech world is a complex one, the inner workings of which the average user is not privy to, and hackers are incredibly good at their “jobs”.

Most of us turn the computer on, check our emails, peruse social media, research a few things and go on about our day, trusting that our anti-virus software will keep us safe.  It does to an extent, but it can take anti-virus software a day or two to begin recognizing newly developed viruses.  And, just like in humans, computer viruses “mutate” and can slip through software.

The biggest defense against computer viruses is you!

boy in superhero cape with arm to sun and sky
You can be an antivirus superhero!

Read on for a list of things you can do to prevent computer viruses from infecting in your computer.

Watch Out For Fake Pop-ups

Often, scammers and hackers will use very convincing looking pop-ups to get you to click into either their fake site, or to download a computer virus onto your system.

They generally look something like this:

picture of a pop up virus
Image Credit: Kevin Jarrett via Flickr

Resist the urge to click on them! If you did, give your local tech a call for a checkup.


Check Suspicious Sites on the Google Transparency Report

It’s easy to check your browsing safety on google.

-Simply enter the web address you want to check out into the Google Transparency Report and tadaaaa!

Example:

Use a Secure Browser

Don’t use Internet Explorer.  It’s no longer updated or supported which means you’re much more likely to get a computer virus while using it.  Install Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Microsoft Edge (Microsoft’s replacement for Internet Explorer).

-Make sure your browser is up to date.  

-Make sure the site you’re going to has an ssl certificate.

You’re looking for that little green lock on the left and https, not http.


Run a Google Security Checkup on your computer. It looks like this:

Make Sure Your Operating System is Updated

If you’re running Windows 7 or below, update! Windows 7 will no longer be supported as of January 2020, and anything older has long since been unsupported.   

You may not want to give up what you know (I know…I still mourn the loss of Windows XP), but old operating systems no longer receive security updates, leaving you vulnerable to computer virus attack.

Just updating your browser, while running on an old operating systems means you’re leaving yourself wide open to viruses.  

It’s kind of like buying a new safety mask and then punching holes in it….not particularly effective.

Beware of Remote Access

We’ve mentioned this particular scam & virus combo in a previous post, but it’s unfortunately become something we’re seeing more frequently. So, it’s worth mentioning again.

If you get a cold call from a “Tech-Support Agent” – HANG UP!

No real tech support agent will cold-call you on the phone! 

These despicable souls will tell you they’re from Microsoft or Norton or Windows Tech Support. They’ll tell you they’re from your Internet Service Provider or cell phone company.

In a frightened state, you allow them remote access to your computer where they “prove (it’s a lie)” that there’s something wrong with your computer.  They claim they’ll fix it for x number of dollars. 

What they’re really doing is injecting viruses, keyloggers (which log your keystrokes as you type-giving them access to all of your account numbers and passwords), or other information stealing tools.

Bottom line?  Hang up on them! They are horrible people. If you’ve already let them in your computer, see our post on What To Do If You Think You’ve Been Hacked, & call your local tech.

While there are legitimate businesses that can use remote access (we, and many real tech companies do offer remote support), if they’re cold calling you, don’t let them access your computer!

We recommend taking your system to a good, local tech company.  If you’re homebound, or don’t want to bring your system to a brick and mortar store, ask your local tech if they can come to you (we do!).

Watch Your Email for Computer Viruses

email on a tablet

Only open emails from people you know, or companies you’re familiar with, but:

-Check the subject line.  Does it sound like something they’d say?  If not, give them a call or shoot a text and ask them if they sent it to you.  

-Don’t open forwarded emails with attachments.  Even from people you know.  Often worms and computer viruses are sent as attachments.

-Watch for emails from companies that you DO know.  Check the spelling of the company name and the spelling and grammar in the subject line.  If either seem off, don’t open them.

Example:  paypall.com (note the second “l”) or amazon.net (amazon uses .com, not .net)

-And, legitimate companies will NEVER ask you for personal information, usernames, or passwords via email.

Be Happy, But Don’t Be Click Happy

-Scan any new download you’re putting on your computer.  Some antivirus softwares (we like Trend Micro) allow for you to scan files from a disc or jump drive before you save them on your computer. And, scan any already downloaded files you are suspicious of as well. Generally, you scan files by right-clicking on the file and selecting your antivirus program.

-Only download from trusted sources. Go directly to the developer’s site (like downloading Microsoft Office directly from Microsoft). Anyone else selling these items can be either a scam or may add viruses.

-Look at the extension when you’re going to download a file. Extensions are found after the file’s name and are usually things like .jpg or .png or .gif. If you find a file that comes up as txt.vb or jpg.exe don’t download it.

-Don’t download illegal things like pirated movies or music. Illegally gotten goods may be free, but you’ll often get an unexpected “bonus” along with them- computer viruses.

-Be very cautious about clicking on videos and links from social media sites. If you don’t trust the person who sent it to you, don’t click on it. If it’s taking you via link to an alternate site, be cautious. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Not All News is Good News

Watch what you click on in the news.

-When checking the news on Yahoo, Bing, or even the Weather Channel, don’t click on the Sponsored Ads or Sponsored Stories (the word Sponsored is usually small & greyed out below the picture or title) . 

Not all sponsored stories or ads are bad, but if you’re not sure, it’s better to err on the side of caution.  Whatever story you’re about to read couldn’t possibly be interesting enough to warrant a possible several hundred dollar computer virus removal bill or worse, new computer.


Back. It. Up.

-We can’t stress it enough.  Back…up…your…computer.  While your local tech can usually recover your files in the event that you have been the victim of a virus or scam, it does come at a cost.  Even without a virus, backing up is important – if your hard drive fails, the possibility exists that your data could be unrecoverable.

It’s much cheaper, and less stressful, for you to just regularly back up your files.

But How Do I Back Up My Computer?, you ask

There are a variety of ways to back up or save your computer files.

-The Cloud.  You can store your photos and information on services like icloud, google drive or amazon photos.  The benefit is that you don’t need to buy any external storage and you can store a finite amount on each service for free. 

yellow-computer-disc
Gone are the days of big discs with tiny storage.

-Jump drives (aka Thumb Drives). They’re small devices, about the size of your thumb that are used to handle smaller amounts of information. They come in a variety of sizes from 4gb to 512gb.

And last, but not least, our favorite method…

-External hard drives.  Slightly larger devices about the size of an average adult hand, that come in a variety of storage capabilities up to 10TB (terabytes).  Hackers cannot get into your external hard drive if you don’t have it hooked up to your computer. You can unplug it from your system when it’s not in use.

The Bottom Line?

Your mom, as always, was right.

And trust your gut. If you don’t feel good about a file or link, don’t open it.

Computer viruses are an unfortunate part of technology, but you can make a big dent in the amount you catch.

If you’re in the Northampton or Lehigh Valley area and find yourself the victim of a computer virus, we’re DRC Technologies & we’ll be happy to help. You can contact us via email or by phone at 610.502.0854.

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