Once upon a time, using a PC meant exposure to a variety of Windows-based viruses.
Yet Mac and Linux computers were almost immune to malicious software.
Mobile phone users didn’t have to worry either, since 1990s and early Noughties devices were only suitable for sending text messages or playing rudimentary games like Snake.
Fast-forward to the present day, and almost any device could be attacked by malware and viruses.
Apple hardware is increasingly susceptible, while recorded levels of smartphone-based malware increase constantly.
As a result, consumers have had to become much more savvy about internet hygiene.
Whether you’re a Linux devotee, an iPhone addict or a Chromebook loyalist, the internet is an increasingly dangerous place to spend time.
There’s malware (Trojans, ransomware and worms), spyware (keystroke logging and adware), and phishing (unsolicited social engineering designed to extract personal data).
Fortunately, common-sense goes a long way to keeping people safe from malware and viruses.
For instance, deleting obsolete or unused software/apps reduces the number of vulnerabilities hackers could target, while attempting to access your personal data.
These are our top tips for remaining virus-free, without having to compromise your normal daily activities…
Ten ways to avoid malware and viruses
- Firstly, approach unsolicited communications suspiciously. Sadly, you haven’t won an international lottery, or received a million dollars from an unknown African prince. However, you probably haven’t had online accounts suspended “due to suspicious actions”, either.
- To determine if an email is legitimate, perform two tests. Hover your cursor over the Sender field, and see whether the email address matches the domain of the company it claims to be from. Do the same over hyperlinks in the email body. If they don’t match, beware!
- Avoid visiting websites with unusual domain suffixes. Normal suffixes include co.uk, .com and .biz. However, an estimated 90 per cent of .gq websites are spammy or somehow dubious. Other top level domains to avoid include .men, .fun, .club and .country.
- Be wary of social media messages. If your cousin always starts messages by saying “Hi cuz”, a message starting “Hey there” should arouse suspicion. All platforms pose risks, but Facebook Messenger has been plagued by password-stealing malware for some time.
- Don’t visit dangerous websites. Modern web browsers often flag up dubious sites, so heed their warnings. Similarly, stay away from the Dark Web unless you know what you’re doing. Enable popup blocking tools, and stick to visiting pages listed in search results.
- Enable software and system updates. Don’t decline the chance to upgrade your Android operating system, or to update your day-to-day web browser. Owners of WordPress websites may need to manually update plugins, which usually get patched as flaws are uncovered.
- Don’t trust insecure networks. Public WiFi is insecure by nature, placing consumers at higher risk of infection. Other than harmless sites like BBC News, stick to browsing via domestic WiFi networks with WPA2 encryption – and log out of webpages after use.
- Set personal identifiers. Many online banks identify legitimate webpages with a user-selected graphic or message. Deploy these whenever possible. Criminals can hijack websites and redirect visitors to bogus platforms, but they can’t replicate this unique user data.
- Avoid illicit material. Peer-to-peer file sharing is a risky enterprise, and downloaded files may not be as innocent as they seem. Scan files with an antivirus package before opening them, and consider downloading files to a contained environment like a Dropbox folder.
- Use ad-blocking tools. This is contentious, since some sites prevent users visiting when popup-blockers are enabled. However, malicious ads may appear on compromised (yet genuine) sites. Preventing pop-ups should stop the majority of malvertising attacks.
Antivirus software remains one of the strongest weapons against malware and viruses.
On this site, you’ll find details of the latest packages – which platforms they work on, key features and protections, and what the cost will be on a monthly or annual basis.
Once software is installed, ensure automatic updates are enabled, and grant sufficient permissions for the software to scan every incoming email, webpage content, etc.
Periodic deep scans of hard drives and operating systems are advisable, though these can be automated to take place in the dead of night – minimising their impact on system resources.
Finally, regular data backups ought to get you back online with relatively little collateral damage, even if a trusted device becomes infected and has to be restored to factory settings.