An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
What can you do to prevent yourself from being infected? They're actually very simple rules. Follow them.
Never open attachments.
I don't care how much you love your mother -- sister -- friend -- husband -- wife -- whoever!
Do not open attachments.
Many people will tell you that if you "trust" the sender to know whether or not a file has a virus, and you scan the file yourself, and the sender did intend to send the attachment to you and it's been the luckiest day of your life anyway, then it is "ok" to open the attachment. Don't believe them. If you don't open email attachments you still may not be protected, but at least you know you have minimized the potential for infection.
While there are often lulls in the destructiveness of email-borne viruses, several times per year a new series of viruses will go around which tests the ignorance of the common computer user. The "UPS" virus, "postcard" virus variants, and recent "invoice" viruses. However tempting, if you don't open these attachments, you will not get infected by them. The millions of people that open them all wish they'd known better.
Install existing patches.
Remember Patch Tuesday. Microsoft releases most all patches on the Second Tuesday each Month. Even if you have your computer set to automatically apply updates -- visit Microsoft Update and check for updates on Patch Tuesday. Not all updates will download in auto mode.
The vast majority of viruses in the wild exploit bugs, flaws and insecurities in products that have already been corrected. If you are using a product that does not have that "patch" applied you may as well install the virus yourself! Most vendors have web sites where you can download patches to their products. This site provides a regularly updated index of updated software, including many of those below. And here's a list of the most common update sites:
- All Service Packs http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=fh;en-us;sp
- Microsoft Windows Update http://update.microsoft.com/
- Microsoft Office Update http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/downloads/maincatalog.aspx
- Microsoft Security http://www.microsoft.com/security/
- Microsoft Technet Security http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/security/
- Apple Downloads http://www.apple.com/support/downloads/
- Mactopia Microsoft Updates http://www.microsoft.com/mac/downloads.aspx
- Apple Mac Security Updates http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=61798
- QuickTime http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/
- iTunes http://www.apple.com/itunes/download/
- Safari http://www.apple.com/safari/download/
- Flash Player http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/
- Adobe Reader (smaller updates are sometimes available through "Help, Check for updates...") http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html
- Shockwave Player http://get.adobe.com/shockwave/
- Adobe AIR http://get.adobe.com/air/
- Adobe Media Player http://get.adobe.com/amp/
- Alienware http://support.alienware.com/Profile/Login.aspx?ReturnUrl=%2fSupport_Pages%2fRestricted_Pages%2fmyhive.aspx
- Sony http://esupport.sony.com/perl/select-system.pl?DIRECTOR=DRIVER&SR=nav:service_support:electronics:drivers_software:esup&ref=http%3A//www.sony.com/index.php
- Gateway http://support.gateway.com/support/drivers/dlcenter.asp
- eMachines http://www.emachines.com/support/product_support.html
- PowerNotebooks.com http://www.powernotebooks.com/support/
- Acer http://www.acerpanam.com/flex/acer/bin/acer.html#app=2766&9e7c-selectedIndex=0&3386-selectedIndex=0&7ac3-selectedIndex=0&f3bf-selectedIndex=0&c985-selectedIndex=0
- Toshiba http://www.toshiba.com/tai/support/support_cons.jsp
- Hewlett Packard / Gateway http://www.hp.com/country/us/en/welcome_acc_supp.html#Support
- Dell http://support.dell.com/support/topics/global.aspx/support/my_systems_info/en/details?c=us&l=en&s=gen
Other Common Products
- Mozilla Firefox http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/
- Sun Java Runtime http://www.java.com/en/download/installed.jsp
- ActivePerl by ActiveState http://www.activestate.com/store/download.aspx?prdGUID=81fbce82-6bd5-49bc-a915-08d58c2648ca
- OpenOffice.org http://download.openoffice.org/index.html
- Trillian http://www.trillian.cc/
- Spybot Search & Destroy http://www.safer-networking.org/en/
For every other software package on your system you should go to the vendors site and see if a patch is available. If there is you should download and install it. If there is not, browse the site until you find the "notify" request or subscribe to their "updates"/"announcements" list. If they do not appear to have one you can always email "webmaster@" or "admin@" that domain and ask them if there is a list, and if not to create one. It is in their best interest to help their users maintain the securiy of their computers.
Use a firewall!
A firewall is a hardware device or software program that prevents certain traffic from crossing it. Think of it like a sieve - a filter that automatically strains undesireables. In technology, a firewall is a divider that prevents untrusted traffic from coming in or going out.
- A hardware firewall usually takes the form of a router or gateway - a box that sits between your computer and the internet. If the device has a firewall and the firewall has "SPI" enabled, then most Internet worms that would otherwise be able to access the computer would be prevented from doing so. This will prevent some functionality, such as Remote Desktop, but that can be worked around through configuration options on the device. This can quite effectively eliminate all unwanted incoming traffic.
- A software firewall runs on the computer, monitoring and filtering traffic directly. Software firewalls today support both port and application-level filtering, so it is possible to enable only a small handful of authorized programs from accessing the internet, and only "approved" ports from accepting incoming traffic. This helps to eliminate unwanted traffic in both directions, including traffic from potentially unwanted applications (PUPS) or infections on the computer - minimizing the damage they can cause even if the computer is infected. Every version of Windows since XP SP2 has included a software firewall, enabled by default. There are, of course, third-party firewalls with additional features, but in any case, it is absolutely essential to have a software firewall intalled and running 24/7.
You should use both hardware and software firewalls. Where one is limited, the other provides strength.
Do not engage in "promiscuous" activity.
"Trust" is real – every site you visit, every file you download, and every application you install places files on your computer. That's just the way it all works.
These files can potentially exploit insecurities that are less-often patched. If you visit a site of "questionable nature" – anything and everything on the site should be considered untrustworthy.
Be careful when you click links and if you notice your system slowing then "maybe something's wrong"? If you're installing pirated software there is a very good chance that it includes a virus. And it's illegal. And it's immoral. Just don't do it.
Trust your instincts.
Regardless of what it is, where it came from, how it got where it is - if you have any instincts at all - when something nags you in the back of your mind not to open something don't do it!
REGULARLY update your antivirus software.
AntiVirus software does not get better with age. In fact, it becomes near useless. Unless you intend to update your virus definitions often and regularly don't bother with the antivirus at all. You will be no better off in the long run.
Use strong passwords, using passphrases wherever possible.
And don't use the same username and password at every site and service you visit.
That means your passwords should be as long as possible, including letters, numbers and other characters. It should be a bare minimum of 12 characters long, though longer if the application allows. Windows (all versions since XP) have no effective limit on password length, meaning that you could readily use a passphrase that is over 100 characters. While that may sound like overkill, considering how infrequently you actually have to type it, the password will be far more secure, effectively preventing the ability for the machine to be attacked in a "brute force" or "dictionary" attack on the password.
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