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Viruses and malware can wreak havoc on your computer. Not only do the malicious files slow down your PC and interfere with web browsing, but some can also even compromise sensitive data on your hard drive.
To make matters worse, tens of thousands of new virus, malware, and spyware files or applications are released onto the internet every single day.
Consequently, chances are good that you may download or encounter a bad file at least once or twice. But as grim as the malware and virus situation seems, though, protecting your computer and preventing infections is not nearly as difficult as you might think. With a little planning and attention to detail, you can keep your PC virus and malware free.
How to avoid malware online
The surest way to prevent your computer from becoming infected with malware or viruses is to surf smart. Surfing smart does not require you to learn anything new or be a technical expert; it simply means you need to be wary of the sites you surf, the files you download, and the ads or pop-ups you to choose to click.
Before you download a file or application, be sure it's from a well-known site that you can trust.
While many legitimate, lesser-known websites certainly exist, there are a large number of malicious sites just waiting to infect your PC with viruses or malware.
One of the easiest ways to know whether you are visiting a reputable website is to install antivirus software with an anti-phishing or malicious website component. These applications generally do a good job of blocking access to rogue or malicious websites and usually warn you before you ever access the bad site.
Keep your browser up to date
Another way to avoid malicious websites is to keep your browser updated to the latest version. When you update your browser, the list of known blacklisted and malicious websites updates as well. You can check for browser updates in the "About" or "Help" section.
Don't click on pop-ups or ads
Avoid clicking links to applications or "free online scans" in pop-up windows as well.
Many times, pop-up ads contain links to malware applications disguised as legitimate programs and security scanners. Download security applications only from official sites or well-known download sites.
Sites such as Download.com, Filepuma, and Softpedia are respected sites where you can find genuine application files that have been scanned thoroughly for viruses and malware.
Below are a few examples of pop-up windows with links to malware posing as antivirus applications.
Be wary of emails sent from unknown sources
Never open attachments in emails from people or organizations you do not know personally or professionally or with whom you haven't done business (i.e. downloaded books, purchased music or applications.)
Before opening emails, ensure that you have a real-time antivirus program installed that is capable of filtering spam emails and scanning messages and attachments for viruses and malware.
Online email sites such as Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Outlook generally do a good job at filtering out spam and scanning for viruses. Nevertheless, do not open attachments in emails from sources you do not recognize.
If you have any doubt at all about an email message, leave it unopened and research the source online.
Better yet, delete the message from the unrecognized sender by sending to the trashcan.
Scan thumb drives and hard drives
Portable storage solutions such as USB flash drives and external hard drives make sharing files easier than ever. And there will probably be times you receive a storage device from a colleague, family member, or friend that contains files you need or simply want to transfer to your computer. After all, that is what the media was designed for, sharing files.
But you should be extra cautious about files you receive on media from other sources.
When handing you a flash drive or other type of media, your friend or relative may unwittingly be giving you an unhealthy dose of viruses and malware for your computer.
In most cases, this is certainly not intentional. However, if the other person had viruses or malware on the computer from which they transferred the files, the malicious applications could have easily propagated and nestled themselves in the external media.
Before you copy any files from external media to your PC, you should always scan them with a quality AV or anti-malware scanner. If you are lucky, the scanner program will detect infected files as soon as you insert or connect the media.
Even if it does not, though, perform a manual scan by opening Windows Explorer or File Explorer, right-clicking the drive letter for the external media, and selecting "Scan," "Scan This Drive" or another similarly named label.
If there are viruses or malware files on the media, the scanner application should detect them and prompt you for their deletion or removal.
Double-check add-on software
Nowadays, it is a common practice for software developers to bundle other programs in the setup routines or installers for their own applications.
While some of these "bonus" applications are indeed genuine, useful utilities, some are nothing more than malware or spyware designed to steal data, consume your bandwidth or engage in other forms of digital mischief.
Therefore, you should always be wary of unknown applications bundled with programs you actually want to use. Better yet, try to find another source for the setup file of the program you want to install and see if you can find an installer without the add-on applications.
If you do have to install an application from a setup package that includes add-on software, be sure to read all descriptions for the bonus applications carefully. Additionally, review the license agreements carefully, as you may actually be giving your permission to transmit sensitive data to developers simply by installing the programs.
Before you install an add-on or bonus application, research the name of the program carefully using your preferred search engine. This will allow you to find out if the application is legitimate or simply malware or spyware in disguise.
In most cases, you can select or deselect add-on programs to determine whether they install or not. If you have any doubts at all about an add-on program, deselect it and do not install the application.
If the setup package does not provide an option for deselecting add-on programs, stop and stay away from the application. If you cannot find an installation source without the add-on programs, it is probably best if you just find another application that is similar.
Avoid downloading pirated media
Some of the largest sources of viruses and malware applications are file-sharing services that host illegal files, pirated software, and copyright-infringing music or videos. While downloading free copies of software or multimedia files may be tempting and seem like a good idea, doing so may put your computer and data at risk.
Hackers and unscrupulous developers are well aware of the temptation that offering free access to expensive music, programs and videos provides many users. Consequently, they use that temptation to entice users to download infected copies of illegal files or media by offering free wares on file-sharing sites.
Likewise, many torrent files contain malware and viruses that install right alongside real applications. Downloading pirated programs and media is not only illegal, but it is also downright dangerous in many cases. So don't do it.
Turn your antivirus software's real-time monitoring on
If you have been using your PC without an antivirus suite and malware scanner that offers real-time monitoring (and your machine hasn't contracted an infection,) you are very lucky. Nevertheless, that luck is bound to run out at some point or another.
Besides safe surfing habits, the surest way of protecting your PC from virus or malware infections is to install both antivirus and anti-malware applications that scan your web traffic and hard drives for threats constantly.
While there are many antivirus suites that perform real-time monitoring, some are much better at the task than others. Here on our site, we document our testing of major antivirus suites and share with you our findings and reviews. Some of the highest-rated antivirus suites we have reviewed include BullGuard, Avira, ESET, and Panda.
For a real-time anti-malware application, there is only one real choice: Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Premium. While there are many other such applications available, none is as reliable and consistent as Malwarebytes.
Malwarebytes also offers a free edition of Anti-Malware that is excellent. However, the free version does not offer a real-time monitoring component and requires manual scanning.
If you're looking for the best anti-malware protection available, the $24.95 price tag is a steal if you consider how much time and aggravation Malwarebytes Premium can save you. Furthermore, $24.95 lets you protect up to three machines with the same license. Now, that's a bargain.