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Avoiding Malware Infections


November 28, 2012
By Stephane Laverdiere DC

Topics

As a chiropractor, I know we often neglect or push aside important office procedures such as computer backups, computer user security and online security.

As a chiropractor, I know we often neglect or push aside important office procedures such as computer backups, computer user security and online security.

The discussion for this instalment of DC Tech Talk centres on the many ways your computer can become infected with malicious software. We want you to realize that  keeping safe online involves more than just relying on an antivirus program. Although you should always have antivirus software installed, it’s also every bit as important to avoid the common bad online habits that often cause virus infections in the first place. Taking the steps below is the key to staying vigilant online and ensuring that the risk of getting any malicious software installed on your computer is minimal.

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Always Have Antivirus Software Installed
Some computer users believe that if they spend their time carefully avoiding suspicious websites and other content when online, they’ll never end up with malicious software on their computer. The reality is, however, that you should always have antivirus software installed and running on your computer, regardless of your level of knowledge and experience. In reality, most malicious software ends up on your computer without your knowledge, using hidden installation techniques that you will never even know about unless you regularly scan your computer with antivirus software.

It’s important to choose your antivirus software carefully, however. There are many solutions out there but you absolutely don’t have to pay for an expensive antivirus suite. There are plenty of free solutions, such as AVG Free or Microsoft Security Essentials, and, while they might not be as sophisticated as the paid solutions, they do offer an essential, basic level of protection against malware. Any decent antivirus software also offers real-time protection, meaning that it will usually catch an attempted security breach before the malicious software has a chance to get itself installed on your computer.

Always make sure that you go for a reputable antivirus program and not one of the almost unknown programs that you might see advertised on the Internet from time to time. Some of these are false antivirus programs and actually cause your computer more harm than good. These are known as rogue virus scanners and are often advertised using pop-ups that tell you that your computer is infected, even if it’s not. Such software, sometimes referred to as “scareware” deliberately tries to blackmail the user into installing it.

Finally, always keep your antivirus software up to date. This should be done automatically.

Download Files Only from Reputable Sources
One of the most common causes of malware infections is downloading torrents, especially those that contain illegal software. When downloading torrents, you should always be especially vigilant and avoid downloading anything that is not legally available for free, because hackers often place viruses in such downloads. Likewise, do not download any other files from sites that seem suspicious. If you’re downloading software, it’s a good idea to stick to major, reputable sites such as download.com or softpedia.com. These major download sites thoroughly scan all of their downloads for viruses. This does not mean, however, that you should rely entirely on the authenticity of such files.

Avoid Unsolicited E-mail and IM Links
If you receive an e-mail or an instant message through a program such as Skype or Live Messenger from an unknown sender, always treat it with suspicion, particularly if it contains a link to a webpage that you didn’t ask for and/or are not familiar with. Even if you know the sender, certain malware is programmed to send out such messages without the owner of the e-mail or IM account actually knowing. Simply put, never click on links unless you know who is sending them and you know what you’re clicking on. If you receive something completely unexpectedly, especially if you don’t know the sender, then it is highly likely that the link will send you straight to a malicious software download or other kind of fraudulent link. Hackers may also post such links in forum posts or on social networking sites such as Facebook.

Keep Your Computer Up to Date
Keeping your computer up to date at all times is essential for ensuring that it remains as secure as possible. Making sure that all of the latest updates are installed as and when they’re released will also make your computer run more reliably; there can be a whole host of other advantages to this practice as well.

Of importance, you should keep Windows up to date by using the Windows Update feature, included in all editions of the operating system. Download and install all updates, particularly the critical and recommended ones, whenever they are released. Other things that you should keep up to date include any other programs on your computer, particularly those related to the Internet. Web browsers and instant messaging programs, for example, should always be kept up to date. You should also keep your hardware device drivers up to date, although this is more for the sake of reliability and compatibility than security.

Use a Firewall
A firewall is a computer security program that blocks outbound and inbound connections across a network or the Internet, instead allowing traffic only from programs you select as trusted.

For the most part, Windows users don’t need to pay much attention to this, thanks to the fact that all editions of the operating system from Windows XP include a built-in firewall that is always activated by default. Users of Windows will mostly deal with the firewall when a program asks permission to access the Internet. The firewall should be running at all times, as it is by default in Windows.

If you take the time to follow these five simple steps it will go a long way in protecting your computer. For the advanced user, you can always do more. I’ll have more on this in another instalment of DC Tech Talk.


Dr. Stephane Laverdiere is a 1995 graduate of the National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, Illinois.  He is president and co-founder of Atlas Chiropractic Systems, a paperless office solution.  He is also founder of the Internet video marketing company, ChiroVMail. He can be contacted at 877-602-8527 or slaverdiere@atlaschirosys.com.  Please  visit www.atlaschirosys.com and www.chiroVMail.com for more information on digital solutions for your practice.


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