You've seen it on the news this week; "Wannacry" is a malicious piece of software that can lock up your PC until you're asked and pay a ransom. Thousands of networks have been attacked around the globe, including the National Health System in the UK. If you patch your Windows machine you should be ok, but I suggest saving another clean copy of your system that you can reload if it happens to you.
You should at the very least already some decent anti-virus software for your computer. Many machines come standard with anti-virus software — like Norton or McAfee, two historically big players in the industry. But things have changed. Now, there are a multitude of anti-virus options, many for free, and capable of allowing you to upgrade to even more coverage. Some software is a little over the top and can slow your computer down. I personally use AVAST, but AVG and AVIRA are decent and free, also offering higher end paid versions, and good options if you're experiencing lag.
In addition to your anti-virus software, consider anti-malware software. Malware is another flavor of a virus. Normally it poses as a program, something useful but often sets itself up to send your information out and make a new home in your computer instead. I like Bitdefender anti-malware software. It's well reviewed and has a long track record, and even the free version has done a good job for the many years I've used it.
Windows operating systems normally come with Windows Defender, a standard defense against virus and some malware. Use it along with your anti-virus. If you run into a conflict by running Windows Defener and another anti-virus software package, shut WD off. It can cause a BIG problem.
Another evil to keep an eye out for is "phishing" — ugly stuff. Phishing starts with an email that looks inconspicuous, sometimes even appearing like it's from a friend of yours, that contains a link, some kind of attachment or executable code. DO NOT CLICK OR OPEN THESE ATTACHMENTS, unless you're 100 percent certain it's safe.
If you do fall for the bait, it could be as benign as taking you to a page to sell you junk, but, on the other hand, it could install malicious code on your machine and lead to some bigger issues. You'll need a professional to remedy these kinds of attacks if your anti-virus software can't. In my experience, it can take hours to clean a machine depending on how malicious and intricate the attack is — especially on a Windows machines. Don't feel alone if this happens to you, plenty have gone down this road after an accidental click.
Since we are on that subject, your choice of technology does matter when it comes to how many vulnerabilities you may be open to. Windows tends to be attacked often as it's the most popular operating system, and hackers find it easier to mess around in. I would say Apple isn't completely safe, but as it's a bit more difficult to hack and you'll see fewer attacks. Linux is possibly one of the safest, but there are different varieties of it. Point is you're never totally out of the woods.
But once you're all set with anti-virus and -malware, and keeping closer eye on your emails and the vulnerabilities of your operating system, make sure you're following these basic steps regularly, to keep your machine a safe as possible on your own:
- Don't do Internet banking over a Wi-Fi Internet connection. Just don't.
- Don't install third-party software from the Internet you're not familiar.
- Run a complete scan of your computer using your anti-virus and -malware software weekly.
- Don't hand out your personal information freely, especially on the Internet — ever wonder where junk email/mail comes from?
- Make sure your anti-virus and -malware software is up to date. (It should do so automatically but be sure.)
It's a dubious world out there, stay aware. This is just an overview or your security options and steps to take to keep your machines clean and working. I hope you picked up a valuable point or two from it.
Brian Koch is an avid techie who's worked in the tech field for dozens of years with Compaq/HP, his own pc business Techpertise, outdoor photography, and more. He has lived with his wife Stacy in Colorado for over 16 years. E-mail questions, comments, suggestions to Brian: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Techpertise.