Intro: How can you prevent viruses and malicious code?
Getting viruses and hacker attacks on your devices is a huge headache that seems to happen all the time today. You may suddenly get weird pop-ups or find your computer running slowly, even though you did not change anything.
These issues are usually caused by malicious codes that get into your device somehow. Viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, and other threats can come from dangerous emails, fake websites, infected files from others, and even tainted ads or videos.
Once they get access, malicious codes can destroy data, steal your passwords, track your activities, or take over your camera. Attacks can come from anywhere if you do not protect your computer, phone, and tablet. The risks are high, but with the right tools and knowledge, you can avoid the most modern cyber dangers.
In this article we will give you 11 step-by-step guide to: How can you prevent viruses and malicious code?
Use antivirus software.
The first line of defense against viruses and other malware is to install antivirus software on all your devices. Antivirus software actively scans for and removes viruses before they infect your system. Make sure to keep the antivirus definitions updated so they can detect the latest threats. Some good antivirus options include Avast, AVG, Bitdefender, and Windows Defender for Windows PCs.
Steps to Using Antivirus Software Effectively:
- Purchase and install antivirus software from a reputable cybersecurity vendor.
- Configure the software to run frequent system scans at least once per day. Please set it to update virus definitions automatically.
- Schedule regular, in-depth system scans to search for dormant or buried malware thoroughly.
- Never turn off your antivirus software or deactivate it, even temporarily.
- Investigate any alerts from your antivirus software immediately. Promptly remove any detected threats.
Update Your Software Frequently
Cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities in outdated software to distribute malware or gain unauthorized access. Using the latest software versions patches those vulnerabilities, denying attackers an entry point. This applies to your operating system, applications, browser plugins, and any other software.
Keep Your Software Updated:
- Enable automatic updates wherever possible – Windows Update, Chrome browser, etc.
- Periodically check for updates manually if no auto-update exists.
- Carefully reviewing software release notes for security improvements.
- Promptly install major updates to your OS and key applications.
- Not using software that is no longer supported and doesn’t get updates.
Exercise caution with email attachments and links.
Email continues to be the most common distribution method for malware. Cybercriminals send deceptive emails with infected file attachments or links to malicious sites. Avoid opening attachments or clicking links if you aren’t 100% sure of the sender’s identity.
Safe email habits include:
- Carefully scrutinize the sender’s address for typos or other irregularities.
- Checking for poor grammar, spelling issues, or an urgent tone that signals phishing attempts.
- Hover over hyperlinks to preview destinations before clicking.
- Verify that file attachments are expected from the sender before opening them.
- Using a cloud scanning tool to inspect attachments before downloading them.
Disable macros in Office Documents
Microsoft Office files like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint commonly contain malicious macros that run scripts and install malware. Disable macros across all Office apps so any exploits within files remain inert. Only enable macros temporarily as an exception if absolutely required.
Steps to Disable Office Macros:
- Open any Office app, such as Word, and access the macro settings.
- Change the default to “Disable all macros without notification.”
- Repeat this process for all installed Office apps.
- Only enable macros on a temporary basis if you receive a file from a trusted source that requires it.
Practice safe browsing habits.
The websites you visit introduce significant malware risks, especially if engaging in illegal piracy or downloading from questionable sites. Stick to reputable sites for software downloads, limit the use of ad-heavy sites riddled with redirects, and don’t click banner ads or pop-ups.
Examples of Secure Browsing Best Practices:
- Carefully type URLs directly into the address bar rather than clicking links.
- Using ad and script blockers to reduce the threats presented by advertisements.
- hovering over suspicious links to inspect their actual destinations before clicking.
- Close pop-up windows and ads without engaging with them or clicking on them at all.
- Avoid pirated media, software, and illegal streaming sites.
Use a firewall.
Firewalls create a barrier between your computer and the Internet, filtering incoming and outgoing connections. Enable the firewall provided by your operating system or install a third-party firewall solution. Properly configured firewalls prevent malware from phoning home and block attacks.
Effective Firewall Best Practices:
- Enable your software firewall provided by Windows, MacOS, or your antivirus suite.
- Block all new connection attempts by default until explicitly allowed.
- Monitor firewall logs to identify unusual connection activity that may indicate threats.
- Configure firewall permissions for only the necessary applications, ports, and connections.
- Disable UPnP on routers and firewalls to reduce the remote attack surface.
Encrypt sensitive data
Encrypting sensitive data like financial information or medical records makes it inaccessible in the event of malware attacks. Encryption converts data into a coded form that attackers cannot read or utilize for fraud or identity theft.
Solutions to encrypt sensitive personal data:
- Use full-disk encryption tools like Bitlocker on Windows or FileVault on MacOS.
- Leverage the encryption options provided by email services and cloud storage providers.
- Use encrypted messaging apps like Signal or encrypted USB drives for data transfers.
- Enable encryption settings in databases, Word processing files, and spreadsheets.
Use a limited-user account for daily use.
The most destructive malware gains elevated administrator access to make deeper system modifications. Using a standard limited-user account instead drastically limits what viruses can accomplish if they slip past your defenses. Reserve full admin access only for software installations and system updates.
Isolating Risky Activities Within a VM
A virtual machine (VM) allows you to run a separate simulated computer within your OS, isolated from the core file system. Use VMs when engaging in risky online activities like torrent downloads or opening files from questionable sources. If the VM gets infected, simply revert to an earlier, uncompromised snapshot.
Disable Risky Services Like RDP and SMBv1
Vulnerable network services like SMB version 1 and Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) dramatically expand the attack landscape for worms like WannaCry. Permanently disabling high-risk services closes common infection vectors. Only enable what your daily workflow explicitly requires.
By implementing these best practices, you can drastically minimize your exposure to viruses, spyware, ransomware attacks, and other forms of malicious code that aim to infect systems and compromise data. Be vigilant about adopting preventative measures.
Q: What is the best antivirus software to protect my computer?
A: Some top-rated antivirus options are Bitdefender, Kaspersky, Norton Security, and Webroot.
Q: Is Windows Defender enough to prevent viruses?
A: While Windows Defender is decent, third-party solutions like Avast and Malwarebytes generally provide better protection.
Q: Do I really need antivirus software if I’m careful online?
Yes, an antivirus is crucial, as some threats happen regardless of browsing habits.
Q: Should I update my software the day updates are released?
A: Yes, apply software updates as soon as possible because they often patch security issues.
Q: Can opening an email attachment infect my computer with viruses?
A: Yes, never open attachments from unknown senders, as malicious programs are frequently spread through email.
Q: Do Mac computers need antivirus protection too?
Yes, all operating systems are vulnerable to malware, so Apple computers require anti-malware tools.
Q: Does encryption prevent malware from accessing my data?
A: Yes, encrypting your hard drive and files will keep the contents safe even if malware slips through.