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4 Ways to Protect Yourself Against an Invasion of Computer Viruses

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Nearly half of computer users will be hit by viruses in the next year. What are you doing to ward them off?

Without giving it much thought, many of us don’t hesitate to use our laptops, computers and tablets for stashing private information and family memories, conducting financial transactions, performing work-related tasks, and, of course, enjoying various forms of entertainment.

Unfortunately, many of us are not giving much thought to security either … though there is every reason we should. Year after year, computers are attacked by a variety of malicious computer programs, including viruses and worms. One report indicated that unique viruses are being created at about a rate of 1,000 or more a day.

According to a 2011 survey by the Computer Security Institute, 45.6 percent of respondents reported they had been subject to at least one targeted attack against their computer system.

If you’re ready to reduce your risks, try these 4 tips:

1. Install antivirus software

This may seem like a no-brainer, but plenty of people fail to take this step or keep their antivirus software up to date. There are numerous antivirus solutions available, and it should not be hard to locate an affordable, quality antivirus software. Some are even free. AVG Anti-Virus Free 2012, a free antivirus offering, recently received PC Magazine’s Editor’s Choice rating for free products.

With free software, there is absolutely no reason to put off installing antivirus software. You will not only be protecting your own computer, but all computers that come into contact with yours, either through email or storage devices.

2. Watch your use of WiFi

Chances are you regularly use your computer over WiFi networks. While wireless internet is fantastic, there are certain risks involved, especially over an unsecured network.

It should go without saying that at home, you should have your network password protected. You can find a very comprehensive list on how to best protect your home network here – but in short, choose the most secure passwords and encryption level possible.

When you are working over unsecured networks, like at your local coffee shop, take the time to protect your information from prying eyes. Lifehacker provides a great list of steps to take when out on public networks:

  1. Turn off sharing
  2. Turn on your firewall
  3. Use SSL when you can
  4. Try to find a Virtual Private Network
  5. Turn off your computer when you are not using it

Lifehacker even goes so far to explain how to automate all of this, which would be really handy if you frequently use your computer over public WiFi.

If you’re unsure how secure the network is, it is best to avoid dealing with sensitive information, such as banking transactions, until you get home.

3. Protect your email

Be vigilant when using email. It is one of the most common routes for damaging programs to make their way into your computer. If a message looks suspicious, it probably is. Avoid opening attachments you are unsure of, and avoid clicking on links in emails when you are not certain where it will take you. Often they will redirect you to sites designed to steal your information. Georgetown University provides a great list of precautions to adopt with your email that is definitely worth reading.

Many antivirus programs include an email scanning component, which can help you with attachments. Even when using such software, though, the final judgment must come from you.

If something does go wrong, and a malicious program causes damage to your inbox, it is often possible to recover you information with an inbox repair tool. Using such a tool can help you recover things like your calendar, contacts and saved messages.

4. Use a strong password

This advice is often repeated, but for good reason. The administrator password on your computer allows for changes to be made to your system. To prevent unwanted access, you must pick a good password. If possible, make certain it contains numbers and special characters.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to use a password you can remember, but insert numbers and characters where possible. For example, if you like rainbows, create a password like this – R@1nb0w3.

This is much harder to crack than the letters-only version.

Of course, all your passwords should be as difficult. But to protect your actual computer from tampering, the admin password is the most important.

5. Learn about securing your computer

Taking the time to learn about the latest methods of protecting your computer will pay off in the long run. There will always be risks, but you will be better prepared for them, and will hopefully avoid most completely.

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