As I clean malicious software out of my customers’ computers, the question I’m most often asked is, “How did that get there?” I can usually make an educated guess, but the more important question is, “How can I keep this from happening again?” Here’s how to minimize the chances of infection.
The first line of defence against malware is … you! You can check whether a file is harmful before you install it. Sometimes you can check before you even download it. VirusTotal (https://www.virustotal.com/en/) is a great website where you can check a file against 40 or so antivirus resources to see if it’s likely to be dangerous. It’s dead easy. A fuller explanation of the site is here: https://www.virustotal.com/en/about/. That page explains how to submit a file for analysis, too. If you do a lot of downloading, you might be interested in the advanced tools, here: https://www.virustotal.com/en/documentation/.
Once you’ve downloaded a file, you can (and should) check it before you install it. So given a choice to Save or Run or Save and Run, the best choice on a file you’re not sure about is Save. When the download finishes, right-click on the file. You will see options to scan the file with your antivirus and antimalware program. Do it! That scan takes seconds!
Customize your installs
Even great, safe programs will try to foist stuff on you. Sometimes it’s Google Chrome (I’m talking about YOU, Avast! Free) or McAfee Security Suite. (What does that have to do with updating your Java? Stop it, Adobe!) Always choose Custom Install over Typical or Express. Custom Install allows you to decline unwanted programs, toolbars, and search hijacks. Typical or Express installs mean that you accept whatever is offered. Clear the check boxes for the stuff you don’t want.
I am testing a little program called Unchecky, which seems to do just what it says. Instead of presenting you with boxes that are already checked, it un-checks them in many common programs. Take a look at it here: http://unchecky.com/.
So far it’s found and cleared the boxes in the programs I update and install on a regular basis. It won’t catch every box on every program, so you should always choose Custom and patiently look for check boxes to clear, but Unchecky is helpful. A video explains this better than I can: http://youtu.be/dzb_SHxt-o8.
Even when you’re aware and careful, bad things can slip through the cracks. I’m pretty good at this stuff, and I still managed to let Chrome sneak in last time I updated my Avast! Free on a test machine here. In addition to a good all around antivirus program that provides real-time protection, you should install and run Malwarebytes (either the free or paid version) or SuperAntiSpyware (free or paid).
Another layer of protection is WinPatrol. WinPatrol monitors key elements of your Windows installation and alerts you to or protects you from programs that try to make changes to those elements. The free version is excellent, and the paid version offers additional features. Take a look at the program here: http://winpatrol.com/.
Do you need help with your computer? I'm here to help you and your home or business computer get along!
Cate Eales runs Computer Care Kelowna (http://computercarekelowna.com/) a mobile service helping home users and businesses get along with their computers. To arrange an appointment phone her at 250-764-7043. Cate also welcomes your comments and suggestions. Send email to [email protected].
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