How To Protect Your Computer From Hackers, Spyware and Viruses

Posted on Tuesday, September 8, 2009 by khabibkhan

This post has been inspired by the situation of one of my cousin’s computers in India. I recently made a trip there and since I’m in the IT field, she asked me to take a look at her computer since it was acting “funny”. The “funny” act was that the computer would automatically restart whenever you tried to install ANY software onto it or download any program from the Internet. First thing I noticed was that there was no anti-virus software installed on the computer, so my first goal was to install AVG anti-virus and check for viruses. But of course, the virus that was already on the computer would not let me install or download anything! Smart virus! To make a long story short (and I mean a LONG story), there were 2256 viruses on the computer and 110 instances of spyware. I have never even heard of such a ludicrous number of viruses on a computer before!

Most of the viruses on the computer were hidden in files that had been downloaded off the Internet: songs, videos, and movies. I was amazingly surprised that the computer lasted for 2 years with that many viruses! So I gave my dear cousin a serious lesson in how to protect her computer from the dangers of the Internet and I will go through them here for anyone else who might be interested!

This is by no means a comprehensive list, so if you have any suggestions, please feel free to comment and I’ll add them on!

1. Install Anti-Virus Software - This should not even have to be listed, if you don’t have anti-virus software installed, you’re asking for trouble! And if your reason for not installing anti-virus software is because it’s too expensive, then that can reason can be shot down because there are several free anti-virus programs out there that are considered better than commercial software packages. Here are two of the most popular ones:

AVG Anti-Virus – Very good and completely free.

Avast Anti-Virus – Almost on par with AVG.

Kaspersky Anti-Virus – Not free, but one of the best detection rates.

2. Update All Software
- Installing an anti-virus program by itself is not enough. There are hundreds of new threats that are found daily and the anti-virus programs release updates regularly to combat the new threats. Make sure you anti-virus program is set to update automatically so that you don’t have to rely on your memory to do it. Also, this goes for all the software on your computer. The most important software to keep up to date is your Windows operating system. It is essential to have Automatic Updates turned on and set to download and install updates automatically.

3. Install only Trusted Software - If you’re not sure what a piece of software does from it’s name, then don’t install it. Also, don’t install anything you didn’t intend to install in the first place. Sometimes programs will ask you to install other programs during the install of the first application. Be careful of that because it’s usually spyware. Install software from big names sites only, such as Microsoft or Adobe.

4. Avoid P2P File Sharing Software – If used with great caution, P2P software is quite useful for movies, songs and software, but if you’re not very technically savvy, you might end up downloading a song that has a keystroke logger attached to it that will send anything you type to some other computer over the Internet. It’s almost impossible to tell that this is occurring unless your anti-virus or anti-spyware programs pick it up in their scans.

5. Delete Unknown Emails
– If you receive emails from random people’s names, do not bother to open the email, just delete it. If you have any doubts after reading the name and the subject, it’s probably not someone you know. Never download or open attachments unless you are sure it’s from someone you know. Give the person a call quickly and ask them if you’re not sure. Most large companies that you create online accounts with will not send you attachments unless you specifically ask for them through their web site. Also, be wary of any emails from sites pretending to be banks, auction sites, etc asking for you to verify bank account info or address info. No bank ever does that.

6. Do not click on Ads
- Avoid clicking on ads if you can. Especially those ads where something is flying around and if you shoot the duck, you win some prize! Ads have become more sophisticated in that they try to make the ad interactive so that you’ll be tempted to play it like a game.

7. Run Virus Scans Regularly – If you’re not in the mood to scan every day, at least run a scan once a week. Actually, setup a schedule for your computer in your anti-virus software to run a scan late at night or whenever you don’t use your computer and that way you won’t be bothered with a slow computer.

8. Be careful what you attach to your computer – This is a more common way to transfer viruses than you might think. Everyone now has a USB flash stick that they carry around on their key chains, ready to snap into any computer. But who knows what your viruses are on your friends computers and what accidentally got transferred to their USB stick. A lot of virus programs will auto launch right when the USB stick is put into the computer, so you don’t even have to open or download any of the files to be infected.

9. Avoid Shady Web Sites
– If you need to look at porn, then make sure you do it in a virtual environment. You are DEFINITELY going to get some virus or spyware if you browse porn sites on your computer. Virtualization basically allows you to run programs like Internet Explorer in a virtual environment that does not effect your current operating system. If you want to find out more, search for “Virtual PC” or “VM Ware” in Google. Otherwise, simply avoid going to shady web sites!

10. Turn On or Install a Firewall
- If you’re running Windows XP, make sure Windows Firewall is turned on. A firewall prevents hackers from gaining access to your computer by limiting the number of ports that are open to the public. Also, when buying a wireless router, make sure it has a built in firewall. Having a software and hardware firewall is better than just having one or the other.

11. Secure Your Wireless Network
– Most wireless routers are set to no security when you install them. Be sure to log into the router and at least set the basic security that requires a password. There are stronger encryption options, but if you don’t understand those, then simply set a password on the router, otherwise anyone can connect to your home network and access everything.

12. Use a Complex Password for Login – This means that you should already have a password to login to your computer. Not having a password at all is not a good idea. Create a password for all user accounts and make sure it’s complex. Complex means it should have numbers, upper case characters, lower case characters, and symbols. This makes it way more difficult for a hacker to get into your computer.