Malware is a constant danger on any internet-connected device, and whether you spend most of your computing time at home or work, the last thing you need is for your date to be interfered with. Viruses and malware are not necessarily the same, but they are always to be avoided for obvious reasons.
Built-in protection has come a long way in recent times. The latest versions of Windows come with fairly robust software as standard to keep users safe – although more educated computer users tend to prefer the idea of taking additional steps wherever possible. Similarly, Apple devices are generally considered inherently safer – although whether that is down to the quality of the software or the userbase being relatively small enough to ensure that it is not worthwhile to target it is up for debate. Nevertheless, we have several great tips concerning things you can do, and otherwise should be aware of, to keep your setup as safe as possible.
1. Install Specialist Anti-Malware Software
As noted, there’s a good chance that if you stick with fairly mainstream devices, you already have a fair degree of protection built-in. Microsoft, Apple and various other hardware and software providers go to great lengths to keep users safe by default. However, malware is an arms race of sorts, and there are just as many people seeking to overcome essential protection as there are defending users, so it makes sense to go with special software to keep you safe. They work over and above basic protection and keep an eye on files, downloads and websites in real-time to block any potential threats.
2. Keep that Software Up to Date
Your job isn’t done as soon as you install anti-malware software. As noted, the arms race involved with malware protection means that breakthroughs are being made all the time – some are good for you and your data, while others not so much. Reputable software is continuously updated to take account of new threats, and the best option is to enable automatic updates. If not, you should check for new software on at least a weekly basis if you want to remain ahead of the curve.
3. Scan Often
Real-time protection is excellent and will cover the bulk of malware issues that you might encounter, but it is always better to be safe than sorry and regular scans can catch anything your software might have missed. As with updates, they can be scheduled to take place regularly, and this is a great idea, but these scans can take up a lot of resources, especially on older computers, so a manual schedule is excellent, just as long as you remember to do it.
4. Keep Your Operating System Up to Date
As we have mentioned on a couple of occasions already, a significant part of your protection is available on an operating system level. Providers of these systems have big reputations and ones that they seek to protect, so they are always hard at work to ensure that any bugs and loopholes are closed quickly. Their efforts only take effect on your system if you keep everything up to date, so don’t leave the OS out of your update routine.
5. Keep Your Network Secure
You don’t need to be a networking expert to take the necessary steps to keep your network secure, and it is highly recommended. The software will protect you from incidental threats but may be less effective at concerted attempts to gain access and to then inject malware and other unwanted code. Keep passwords secure on routers and Wi-Fi and ensure that any built-in firewalls and security software are active and up to date.
6. Keep an Eye on Your Online Behaviour
As a general rule of thumb, we would advise never to click links in emails unless they come from sources that you trust implicitly. Even then, only click links you have specifically requested, such as to reset a password. When you receive an email notifying you of issues with your account from a business, bank or anything else, go direct to the source or contact them outside of the online space rather than using links in an email.
7. Share as Little Personal Information as Possible
Unwanted access to files and data is not just the result of brute force or code – you can also expose yourself by oversharing. If there is something you use as a common password or security answer, like your mother’s maiden name or first pet, keep that kind of information off Facebook and other social networks. We saw an extreme example recently, but a memorable one, where someone posited that the images you often see where the name of your first pet and the first road you lived on is your Hollywood name – it sounds fun and innocent, but it exposes more information than you might like.
8. Avoid Open Wi-Fi
We have discussed the security risks of open, shared Wi-Fi elsewhere on the site in-depth, but the fact remains that they are a great way to open yourself up to attacks in a manner that directly contradicts our advice on network security above. Free wi-fi in a pub or coffee shop is useful, but it is best used to check sports score, read the news or anything else similarly impersonal rather than checking your online bank account and work email.
9. Keep a Backup of Anything Important
Whether you get stung by ransomware or conventional malware, the effects can be limited if you have a second copy of everything important. The lengths you go to will depend on your personal approach to digital security. You could burn all your important files onto a DVD each week, keep a second hard-drive that backs up the first automatically but is usually disconnected or try one of the multitudes of online services.
10. Use Different Passwords Everywhere
This is a trickier tip than it might appear. Everyone, us included, suggests a different password for every site, but we are equally concerned with writing them down. Use ones you can remember if possible, or consider a service that keeps your passwords secure across multiple devices, such as LastPass or even your Google account.