One of the most common questions found when cleaning malware is "how did my machine get infected?". There are a variety of reasons, but the most common ones are that you are not practicing Safe Internet, you are not running the proper security software or that your computer's security settings are set too low.
Below I have outlined a series of categories that outline how you can increase the security of your computer to help reduce the chance of being infected again in the future.
Do not use P2P programsPeer-to-peer or file-sharing programs (such as uTorrent, Limewire and Bitorrent) are probably the primary route of infection nowadays. These programs allow file sharing between users as the name(s) suggest. It is almost impossible to know whether the file you’re downloading through P2P programs is safe.
It is therefore possible to be infected by downloading infected files via peer-to-peer programs and so I recommend that you do not use these programs. Should you wish to use them, they must be used with extreme care. Some further reading on this subject, along with included links, are as follows: "File-Sharing, otherwise known as Peer To Peer" and "Risks of File-Sharing Technology."
In addition, P2P programs facilitate cyber crime and help distribute pirated software, movies and other illegal material.
Practice Safe InternetAnother one of the main reasons people get infected in the first place is that they are not practicing Safe Internet. You practice Safe Internet when you educate yourself on how to properly use the Internet through the use of security tools and good practice. Knowing how you can get infected and what types of files and sites to avoid will be the most crucial step in keeping your computer malware free. The reality is that the majority of people who are infected with malware are ones who click on things they shouldn't be clicking on. Whether these things are files or sites it doesn't really matter. If something is out to get you, and you click on it, it most likely will.
Below are a list of simple precautions to take to keep your computer clean and running securely:1) If you receive an attachment from someone you do not know, DO NOT OPEN IT! Simple as that. Opening attachments from people you do not know is a very common method for viruses or worms to infect your computer.
Keep Windows up-to-dateMicrosoft continually releases security and stability updates for its supported operating systems and you should always apply these to help keep your PC secure.
Windows XP users You should visit Windows Update to check for the latest updates to your system. The latest service pack (SP3) can be obtained directly from Microsoft here.
Windows Vista users You should run the Windows Update program from your start menu to access the latest updates to your operating system (information can be found here). The latest service pack (SP2) can be obtained directly from Microsoft here.
Windows 7 users You should run the Windows Update program from your start menu to access the latest updates to your operating system (information can be found here). The latest service pack (SP1) can be obtained directly from Microsoft here
Keep your browser secureMost modern browsers have come on in leaps and bounds with their inbuilt, default security. The best way to keep your browser secure nowadays is simply to keep it up-to-date.
The latest versions of the three common browsers can be found below:
Microsoft Internet Explorer
Use an AntiVirus SoftwareIt is very important that your computer has an up-to-date anti-virus software on it which has a real-time agent running. This alone can save you a lot of trouble with malware in the future.
See this link for a listing of some online & their stand-alone antivirus programs: Virus, Spyware, and Malware Protection and Removal Resources, a couple of free Anti-Virus programs you may be interested in are Microsoft Security Essentials and Avast.
It is imperative that you update your Antivirus software at least once a week (even more if you wish). If you do not update your antivirus software then it will not be able to catch any of the new variants that may come out. If you use a commercial antivirus program you must make sure you keep renewing your subscription. Otherwise, once your subscription runs out, you may not be able to update the programs virus definitions.
Use a FirewallI can not stress how important it is that you use a Firewall on your computer. Without a firewall your computer is susceptible to being hacked and taken over. Simply using a Firewall in its default configuration can lower your risk greatly.
All versions of Windows starting from XP have an in-built firewall. With Windows XP this firewall will protect you from incoming traffic (i.e. hackers). Starting with Windows Vista, the firewall was beefed up to also protect you against outgoing traffic (i.e. malicious programs installed on your machine should be blocked from sending data, such as your bank details and passwords, out).
In addition, if you connect to the internet via a router, this will normally have a firewall in-built.
Some people will recommend installing a different firewall (instead of the Windows’ built one), this is personal choice, but the message is to definitely have one! For a tutorial on Firewalls and a listing of some available ones see this link: Understanding and Using Firewalls
Install an Anti-Malware programRecommended, and free, Anti-Malware programs are Microsoft Security Essentials, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, Spybot Search & Destroy and SuperAntiSpyware. You can find these programs and more on our other blog article; PNW Computer's Recommended Software Programs & Downloads!
You should regularly (perhaps once a week) scan your computer with an Anti-Malware program just as you would with an antivirus software.