544 - Malware and You - Part #1

“Malware”, short for “malicious software,” is the generic name for programs that infect devices for purposes other than those of the legitimate user. This week we’ll discuss malware that is downloaded onto your desktop, notebook, tablet or cell phone, from the Internet. This malware is of no benefit to the user but seeks instead to accomplish some purpose for the perpetrator. Various types of malware include viruses, worms, Trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, adware, scareware etc. Today we will start with the basic malware defense strategies.

1. Anti-virus/malware software

Whether you use a free Antivirus program (like the Avast or Avira we currently put on unprotected PCs that leave our shop) or a paid version like our favorites, Kaspersky, Panda and  NOD 32, you must keep it up to date and check it regularly to be sure it is active and running. You should also activate your Window’s or anti-virus program’s firewall.

2. Keep Your Operating System Current

With Windows Vista, 7 or 8, you must either enable the automatic update feature or run “Windows Updates” weekly. The Windows security patches will help to keep your system secure. Windows 10 will update automatically whether you like it or not and Windows XP has had no security updates since April of 2014.

3. Secure Your Network

Many PCs access files, printers, or the Internet via Wi-Fi. Make sure your passwords are strong. Never broadcast an open Wi-Fi connection. Don’t broadcast your SSID (the name of your Wi-Fi network). If you frequently have guests who use your Internet, provide a guest SSID that uses a different password.

4. Think Before You Click

Avoid websites that provide pirated material. Do not open email attachments from unknown sources. Do not click on an unsolicited email links. Hover over any suspicious link before you click it to see where it’s taking you. If you download a file from the Internet, an email, a file-sharing service or any FTP site (file transfer protocol), scan it before you run it. Your anti-virus software should do it automatically, but make sure it is being done.

5. Keep Your Personal Information Safe

Hackers will compile your information and personal data from account to account until they have enough to access your banking data or steal your identity. Be cautious on message boards and social media. Lock down all of your privacy settings, and avoid using your real name or identity on discussion boards. Use multiple passwords. Be very careful using the open Wi-Fi hot spots like Starbucks, McDonalds, the library, and airports. Use only sparingly and never to access personal or password protected sites. The bad guys are listening in.

6. Back Up Your Files

Any files that are important to you should be backed up. Backing them up on an “always connected” storage device like external or internal hard drives is not reliable back-up. Malware that infects your PC can infect a back-up drive if it is connected when the PC is attacked. The safest back up is a “cloud storage” service like Carbonite. Your files are safe and accessible, the cost is less than $60 a year and it is automatic. If you do use an external back-up, then back up frequently and disconnect when you’re finished. Don’t leave your back-up device connected.

These are basic simple practices everyone should follow. Next week we will discuss the kind of attack that none of these practices can prevent. Social Engineering exploits.