Computer Safety

by: Chuck Bessey and Tim Foelker ( Protechworks.com ) – 8/13/10

Just imagine yourself surfing the Internet for a new car or a red party dress, and all of a sudden your computer slows down, freezes, or……..you’re at your computer blissfully typing and clicking, and all of a sudden your screen goes blue, or……you settle in front of your computer to check your email, and you can’t access the internet…..

Your heart stops, and your hands tremble. You suspect you may be under attack. What do you do now? As a matter of fact, you have good reason to be apprehensive. All incidents of malware, more commonly referred to as a virus, spyware, or adware, can require extensive expert help to resolve. Extreme cases will crash the computer and can even destroy information on the hard drive!

So, let’s start with what you should have done before. 

UPDATE for 2014:
One of the most cost effective solutions for protecting Window's computer securty comes free, directly from Microsoft: Microsoft Security Essentials. Yes, click this link to Get Microsoft Security Essentials for the low, low price of free. Microsoft Security Essentials is supported on Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP.

While Apple's Mac OS X operating system (the one that runs your Mac), and iOS (the one that runs your iPhone), generally don't need extra security software installed, it's critically important to keep your operating system(s) up to date. Both Apple and Microsoft have built-in tools to check for updates to your devices automatically. Always leave these update checks enabled.
******

Your first lines of defense are to have your Windows “firewall” activated and to have an anti-virus program installed and kept up-to-date. Norton , McAfee , or a free one , AVG , are all good programs. Additionally, you should have a malware program like Spybot or Malwarebytes (both also free) installed on your system.

In the instances described above, run your antivirus program, use Windows System cleanup , defragmentation, and other maintenance programs, and hope to see an improvement. However, you may need expert help from a relative or friend, or, alas, from a repair service center such as the Best Buy’s - Geek Squad, and hope they can repair the system without costing you an arm and a leg.

Most attacks come from downloading infected email attachments, visiting questionable web sites, or clicking on unidentified links. Malware can even be inadvertently passed on by your friends and, further, spread unawares by you yourself through forwarding infected email!

When surfing the web, a little paranoia and a lot of common sense are in order. Use caution visiting celebrity, sports, and game sites. Especially be careful when you are accessing your bank or credit card or shopping accounts. The reason is “Phishing.” Phishing is an attempt by a web site to masquerade as another site (like your bank!) in order to trick you into giving them your information, thereby opening the door to theft of your identity! The scenario works something like this: you get an email about an error in your bank account (or Amazon or Ebay saying they couldn’t deliver a package). It asks you to click a link to log in and verify your information. When you click the link the site looks just like your bank or Amazon or Ebay, with a logo and everything. The site might be fake, however, and if you enter your log in and personal information it is being captured by bad guys for nefarious purposes.

To protect yourself, never click any links in any emails you are not absolutely sure are legitimate. Always go to the site by typing the proper address (e.g., usbank.com, amazon.com, ebay.com) in your browser’s address bar, or using a known good bookmark in your browser for that site. From there you can safely log in and check you account or order status.

When handling email, do not open mail from unknown senders. Do not download attachments from unknown sources. Do not click on embedded links you are not sure about. Do not click on any site offering free scans of your computer, or on any anti-virus program that is not already on your system. NEVER give out personal information such as your SS number, your bank account number, or any passwords, in an email, even though the request appears authentic. (And also because email, by its nature, is inherently insecure and now you've written down and sent sensitive informatin that you can't guarantee is private anymore!) Make a direct phone call to anyone requesting such personal information to verify the source and reason for the request.

If you ever feel that any account information has been compromised, do not hesitate to immediately change your password on the affected account. And use secure passwords: lots of random characters, a mix of upper and lowercase alhpabet with numbers and symbols.

Be wary of any email that has been forwarded to you, especially one with one or more FWD’s in the subject line and those that contain attachments. Forwarding is one of the most common ways of spreading malware around the Internet, so do not let yourself become part of the problem by clicking on “forward.” You should highlight and copy any text you want to pass along to friends and paste it into a newly composed email of your own. Tell your friends you will delete forwarded email without opening it.

Here at Monterey, we have discussed these Internet safety and email issues in our Computer Workshops, but many of these common mistakes persist. Over the past few months, several computers at Monterey have experienced problems requiring extensive expert help to resolve. The wonderful expansion of personal computers and access to the Internet has broadened and enriched our lives. Using your computer to stay in touch with family and friends, to surf the web for information, to shop and do your banking should be a pleasurable experience. Following these guidelines will help alleviate some of the anxiety and ensure you stay safe in cyberspace.