A malware infection is every user’s nightmare. In addition to viruses and spyware that can cause your device to slow down or crash, it can also be used by criminals to monitor or control online activity, steal personal information, send spam, and commit fraud.
But there are plenty of things individuals and IT administrators can do to protect themselves and their computers. Just in time for the New Year, the FTC has published a series of steps individuals and enterprises can take to help avoid malware infection.
Avoid, Detect, Eliminate
Malware countermeasures can be grouped into three broad categories: avoidance, detection, and elimination. Avoiding an infection in the first place is by far the most desirable way to counteract malware threats. Many infections occur when scam artists try to trick people into clicking on links that will download malware and spyware to their computers, especially computers that do not use adequate security software.
To reduce the risk of downloading unwanted malware and spyware, users should keep security software updated. At a minimum, a computer should have anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall. Set any security software, Internet browsers, and operating systems (such as Windows or Mac OS) to update automatically.
Since many malware infections come in the form of Web links in the body of an e-mail, one way to avoid inadvertently downloading malware is to type the URL of the site directly into the Web browser rather than clicking on the link. Similarly, users should avoid opening attachments in e-mails unless they know who sent them and what they are. Opening attachments, even in e-mails that seem to be from friends or family, can install malware on a device.
Free software can often come with malware. Only download free software from trusted Web sites, and ensure your browser security setting is high enough to detect unauthorized downloads.
Recovering from an Infection
Users and system administrators should also monitor computers and systems for unusual behavior. A computer may be infected if it slows down, crashes, or displays repeated error messages. Other symptoms of an infection include an inability to shut down or restart, a barrage of pop-up ads, the appearance of Web pages the user did not intend to visit, unexpected toolbars, icons, or sudden or repeated changes to a browser’s home page.
Once an infection has been detected, users should take the following steps: stop all online shopping, banking, and other activities that involve user names, passwords, or other sensitive information; then, update and run security software to scan for viruses and spyware.
You should delete anything that is identified as a problem. You may need to restart your computer for the changes to take effect. If a computer is covered by a warranty that offers free tech support, contact the manufacturer. Before calling, write down the model and serial number of your computer, the name of any software installed, and a short description of the problem.