Most modern viruses do not depend on great programming to get into your computer. Instead, they depend on your behavior. They use something called “social engineering,” what others might call dirty tricks. For instance, you might get an email that purports to be from your bank warning of a hacker attack. It recommends that you click the provided link and reset your password. The link destination appears to be your bank. It requests your name and account number, your old login and password, and then allows you to set a new password. If you do this, you just gave a hacker your banking information.
This particular trick is called “spoofing,” copying a website in order to trick people into treating the hack site as a trusted page, and it’s frighteningly easy to do it. To avoid spoofing, call your bank when you receive this kind of email and ask whether they sent such a warning. It is unlikely they will say yes; most banks, when systems are compromised, will notify you via postal mail or telephone.
Another social engineering tactic is sending an official-looking email with an attachment. The attachment carries a special virus called a “Trojan horse” that infiltrates your system and allows a hacker full access to your computer, and may do a number of other things. A common Trojan horse is the UPS Virus, which is delivered in an official-looking notification that UPS could not deliver a package to your home. It recommends that you click the attachment and print out the claim notification inside to take to your nearest UPS office. The attachment does not include a claim notification, but rather a virus that immediately takes over your computer. To avoid this tactic, never open attachments you do not expect. Call the sender instead and ask whether this is a legitimate attachment.
Always keep your antivirus, anti-spyware, Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool (MRT) and firewall services updated and active. These programs not only protect against many of the social-engineering viruses discussed above, they protect you from viruses that can piggyback on downloads or even invade your computer when you visit the wrong web site. Run regular recommended updates for Windows and for your antivirus software to ensure the most up-to-date information and to optimize your PC.
If possible, only visit web sites you trust. Trustworthy sites include large popular sites like Wikipedia or the New York Times. More obscure sites are more likely to carry viruses and other malicious computer codes. The worst sites for viruses are free adult sites, with sites offering free movies and other media coming in a close second. Remember the old admonishment: “There is no free lunch.” Most web sites that offer you something of value for free are finding other ways to fund their enterprise, and while most of these use legitimate, honest, and non-harmful methods, as Free Computer Maintenance does, a few are there for the sole purpose of stealing your information.
You can avoid some problem web sites by always using Google to search them out, instead of typing in a web address. Google has been cataloging problem sites and will warn you next to a web site’s link if malicious code has been found on it. Most of the time, Google will not list these sites at all. Norton’s antivirus software offers a similar service that works on all search engines.
To protect you if you do accidentally infect your computer, purchase a large external hard drive and create a backup of your computer. This will make it simple for a computer recovery service to repair and replace all your critical data in an emergency. Make certain you back your computer up at least once per week. You can also use an online backup service to create your backup. Any backup will help protect your computer from viruses by making it easy to remove everything from the computer and start fresh if necessary.