Safe Computing Practices

Posted By BrokenClaw on February 1, 2008

Viruses and worms can create all sorts of havoc on your computer, from simple annoyance, to slowing your machine, to destroying your entire operating system. These effects may be their goal, or they may just be side effects of their true intention. Although viruses and worms have specific characteristics, their results can be the same, so this discussion will use the term virus to mean either one.

Just like real life, the best defense against a computer virus is prevention:

Safe Computing Behavior

Safe computing behavior is the foremost measure against a virus attack. This behavior should include:

  • Never open attachments from unsolicited email or attachments which you weren’t expecting.
  • Never click on a link requesting you to “confirm your password”.
  • Never click on advertising links promising free stuff.
  • Never download programs or install programs from pop-up ads.
  • Never run programs you weren’t looking for from a website.
  • Use anti-virus software (see below) to scan downloaded files before they are installed on your computer.
  • Keep your operating system up-to-date with automatic updates.
  • Use your operating system’s tools like parental controls and User Access Control.

Most webmail services provide free email scanning. Or you can use an anti-virus program as described below.

A Firewall

Install a firewall to prevent unwanted Internet traffic from getting to your computer. The term firewall comes from the structural feature which is designed to prevent fire from spreading from one section of a building to another. The computer firewall is designed to protect your inner network in your home from the outer network, the Internet.

In most households with broadband, the router, using a technology known as network address translation (NAT), serves as a hardware firewall for all of the computers in your home. A NAT router controls the communication between your computer and the Internet site you want to access. By its nature, then, it rejects unsolicited Internet traffic which may be trying to access your home computer.

A software firewall runs individually on computers to do the same thing. All versions of Windows, starting with Windows XP SR2, include a software firewall, but there are other vendors as well. It’s important to use a software firewall, even behind a NAT router, because they protect against intrusions that may get in by other means. For example, a friend or family member might copy files onto one of your computers from a CD or USB drive.

Anti-Virus Software

Install and run an up-to-date anti-virus (AV) program. When used properly, anti-virus programs can detect and prevent all kinds of virus attempts from downloads, websites, and email. However, you should not depend on an anti-virus program to protect you — it is just one tool. In order for an AV program to work, it must be kept up-to-date with each new virus, and it must be properly configured to be always on, and it must check all files being copied to your computer.

Anti-virus programs are often included in the purchase of a new computer as a free trial version. Unfortunately, many people do not understand the workings of an AV program, and without the ongoing subscription, the AV becomes quickly outdated.

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