While a lot of internet threats are rather over-hyped, there are some serious things to be cautious of when going online. Probably the biggest risk to the average internet user is malicious software. Commonly knows as "malware," this term refers to any program that exists solely to do harm. This may include damaging your computer or accessing your data without you knowing. Viruses, trojans, and spyware are all forms of malware. Now, malware can seriously mess up your system, and the idea of somebody having access to your personal info is understandably scary. Here are a few common sense tips you should always follow to help keep your computer clean.
- Install anti-virus software. But not too much! A common mistake that people make is in thinking that having more than one anti-virus program will keep their computer twice as safe. On the contrary, this can cause both programs to stop performing correctly. Pick one solid program that you like. You'll also need to set up an automated scan. Folks who rely solely on manual scans run the risk of letting viruses slide by. The average computer user should schedule a scan for at least once a week. If your anti-virus software has real-time protection, that's even better.
- Don't click on any pop-up ads. Pop-ups are notorious for installing sneaky things. Some sites have gotten really clever, designing pop-up ads that look like normal computer error messages. Think before you click. Read the error message carefully. If there are spelling mistakes, or if the error message is framed within a browser window, close it immediately.
- Don't open email attachments from people you don't know. If you see a file name that ends in ".exe", delete it immediately. An .exe file is a program file. Even if you don't see a program file, look for clues that point towards the sender being less than trustworthy. If the text of an email seems overly generic and you don't recognize the sender, there could be trouble. When in doubt, reply and ask the sender to identify his-or-herself before downloading anything. Here's an example of an email that should raise warning flags:
- Be wary about downloading programs from sites you don't recognize. Now, that said, there's a lot of really great independent and user-made software out there. But before you click that "Download" link, do a little research. Internet users love to talk about their recent downloads, so if somebody else has had problems, a quick Google search should turn up their comments in no time. It's also a good idea to see if the program you want can be found through a reputable download source, such as CNET Download, Brothersoft, or Softpedia.