As more and more of our lives become digital it's more important than ever to protect our computers from malicious software such as viruses and spyware. In this article we're going to offer you some best practices you can follow to help keep reduce the risks.
Keep in mind that no one product is the complete answer to security and staying safe still requires smart practices, staying up to date and having good backups.
Malicious software, also known as "malware", often takes advantage of vulnerabilities that software vendors like Microsoft and others, have already patched. It's important to keep your computer up to date on those patches. Fortunately Microsoft makes that easy to do with Windows Update.
It's important to keep up with updates on non-Microsoft software as well. Other vendors, such as Adobe, Sun, Apple and others regularly publish updates to their software via their websites.
Download files only from trusted sites
When you download a file from the Internet, be sure you know the source! You should download only files that are from known, well-established, companies. When in doubt, don't download the file. As an extra precaution, you can download files onto a disk separate from your hard disk, such as a USB flash drive, and then scan the files with your virus scanner.
Be wary of unexpected attachments or hyperlinks in email
Viruses and spyware are often sent via email and often in what are called "spoofed" messages - or emails that appear to be from a trusted sender but actually are not. If you receive a file attachment or link you weren't expecting, even if it appears to be from a trusted source, consider it carefully. Does the attachment or link seem like something that person would send you? Does the message seem consistent with how that person writes? If there's any doubt, contact the apparent sender and confirm that they really wanted to send you that attachment or link before you click on it.
Use anti-malware software
There are a number of good software packages available, for both PC and Mac, that can help to protect your system. Some are free and some require a paid subscription. Windows 8 or later has Microsoft Defender built in. If you're running Windows 7, one that you might consider is Microsoft Security Essentials which is free to download and use.
Maintain good backups of your data and test them regularly
If a virus erases or corrupts files on your hard disk, a recent backup may be the only way to recover your data. Back up your entire system regularly. At the minimum, back up files that you can't afford to lose, such as documents, pictures, financial information, favorite links, address books, and important e-mail messages. It's a good idea to always have at least 2 copies, if not more, of critical files. It's best practice that at least one of those copies should be in a different location, so that a flood or fire that might destroy your computer won't also destroy the backups of your critical data.
See also: Back up and restore your PC
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