If you're like many of our customers, you are confronted regularly by attempts to infect your computer with viruses or other malware. While viruses may pose a higher risk to your data and privacy, it is other types of malware, like advertising and marketing software, that really drain your resources and can slow your computer down. To avoid falling into every trap you encounter online (and there are a lot!), start by following these simple tips:
1) Pay Attention to what You Download
It seems that Adobe needs to update all of your software once a week. That's weird, given that you've been using the exact same program for 10 years and no other piece of software updates this often, right? Well, bundled into Adobe's installer is a 'hidden' checkbox consenting to download two additional programs that you probably didn't want in the first place. The result? Now, you get two more icons in your toolbar, two more programs that force feed you popups or ask you to pay for premium features and, most importantly, two more programs draining your valuable computer resources from the moment you log on.
This is also true for many popular downloading sites. Many times, an advertisement near the top of the page will show a large, green "download now" button. This button will download a software program you weren't looking for that will gather your data and bombard you with advertisements. Generally, the real download button is much smaller and farther down the page. Make sure you're reading through your download pages carefully and, when in doubt, hover over a download button or link to view the target page in the bottom corner of your browser - this can tell you if you're being redirected somewhere undesirable.
2) Don't Fall for Fake Virus Alerts
Almost every virus repair I've completed had one or more of these programs on their PC. You can recognize them by their generic name, pushy behavior and resemblance to popular programs. These advertisements first appear on unscrupulous websites as a popup notifying the visitor that a virus has been found on their PC. Typically, clicking any "button" on the popup window will simply link you to a page where you will voluntarily download malware in an attempt to fix the "virus" you were so kindly warned about.
If you already have malware on your computer, these bait windows will appear as desktop notifications or seem to come from a normal program. Clicking the link will do the same thing: allow the malware to download more malware to your computer. With 3 or more of these programs running, it can be hard to get anything accomplished.
To avoid this type of scam, don't click anywhere on a suspicious window if you didn't install the program that is warning you. It is mostly safe to click the 'x' in the corner to close an ad, but it is much safer simply to navigate to another website and conduct your business elsewhere. Many of these malware programs appear to be helping you and have friendly names such as "PC Accelerate," but don't be fooled. If you didn't put it there, it is there to profit off of you.
3) Protect Yourself with Antivirus
Yeah, yeah. We've all heard about this 'antivirus' thing and quite frankly, we're sick of it. So, I'll keep it simple. You don't need to pay for antivirus anymore and there are quite a few free options that will protect you better than Norton can.
We recommend a simple software suite to combat viruses, malware, adware and all other types of unwanted solicitation. First, BitDefender (free edition) will scan, fix and protect your computer from every virus and piece of malware that the commercial programs can. Download it. Next, download Malwarebytes Antimalware to keep all of those pesky advertising popups away and even block many of them from appearing in the first place.
If you're feeling especially paranoid and want to bring out the big guns, download an addon for your internet browser to block advertisements and personal information requests. I suggest AdBlock Plus or Disconnect.
4) Keep Windows and Defender Up-to-date
It is easy to ignore the requests to restart your computer to apply updates. We get it, it can be inconvenient at times. If it works better for you, set a day once a week where you restart your computer and update any software that has been nagging you. It is absolutely critical that your computer and software stay up-to-date to avoid infection, since many malware creators count on the fact that old vulnerabilities will remain unfixed on procrastinators' computers.
You can always access Windows Update and Defender from the system tray at the lower-right corner of your screen. Keep in mind that many antivirus programs won't work well with Windows Defender, so following our earlier recommendation of using BitDefender and Malwarebytes Antimalware together with Windows Defender will provide full-spectrum defense against all forms of malware.
5) Don't Use Internet Explorer
With the advent of Windows 10, many former Internet Explorer users have fortunately migrated to the new Edge browser. If you're using another operating system and still have Internet Explorer set as your default browser, you should change it right away.
Now, I'm not saying that IE is inherently vulnerable, but it has been a consistent target for malware and seems to be working. Switching to another popular browser such as Chrome, Opera, Edge or, my favorite, Firefox, can help you stay protected.