I’ve personally worked in the consumer and business computer repair industry for about 8 and 1/2 years now and I have seen people do a lot of “interesting” things with their computers. Some things that a PC was never intended for, such as the old favorite CD tray cup holder. I’ve actually seen this type of behavior up close and with the client asking so innocently, “What happened to my computer?”
It’s very hard to keep composure in the face of this neglect, but years of training in “not being an jerk” helps me to calmly describe what has happened. With regards to the internet and random issues people face, you name it I’ve seen it. Whether it is junior looking up the naughty websites or grandpa trying to buy medication online–from Ukraine–with his bank account number, there are real dangers out there that can attack you and leave you penniless if you are completely carefree.
But don’t run and unplug your modem for fear of the digital world, simply read on to learn from the mistakes I have seen many others make to keep yourself safe and virus free. This next headline may be a bit shocking……
You Don’t Actually Need An Antivirus
Ok, now before we go into the finer points of this, let me say that this isn’t a blanket statement for all users because of the difference in skill levels and awareness to threats. Not rocking a solid antivirus or anti-malware might result in catastrophic failure. Personally, myself and a couple friends went through a patch where we didn’t use any protection outside of the Windows Firewall and our routers on lock down. This is acceptable if you know how to set your modem and / or routers security along with completely locking down the built-in Windows Firewall and your browser. Then, being able to safely travel on the web involved minimal downloading, no potentially unsafe sites, and generally being cautious.
But, as with the advent of live gaming, streaming videos, having multiple devices going out through your router (TV, Xbox, Wii, Video/Music Server, etc..), and multiple programs contacting home for updates, complete lock down became more difficult. None of us contracted a virus until we stupidly stumbled to more downloading. As you can see, this is not for everyone and involves a lot of research and still is vulnerable to an elite hacker. But it proves it can be done without third party protection. Before the people at Norton, McAffee, Avast, and MS burn me at the stake for what I have just said, lets dive in further because beneath this all lies some great insight into how to use the web.
Let’s think about how we can actually contract a virus, trojan, or spyware on our PC. Going to seedy websites that have scripts triggered to fire as soon as you access the page, checking your email on your PC with a 3rd party mailing client like Thunderbird or Outlook and innocently viewing an email which contains a “viewing response” script, downloading a file off a P2P site/email attachment/website and it containing the virus, accidentally mistyping a web address and ending at a closely spelled counterfeit webpage, or a bevy of other ways you can “accidentally” infect your computer. The web really can be a scary place but if you know what you are doing and where you are going, you can avoid a good percentage of the evils that lurk.
So how do we avoid the above stated problems? Well for starters, only traverse the web to sites that you know are good or have a strong inclination are good. Use a high caliber search engine such as Bing or Google if you are searching for a site that you don’t know the URL to and go with one of the top-seeded listings. Learn to analyze the URL that is listed in the search finding before clicking blindly on the link provided. This will keep you from accidentally clicking on the Ad links that every search provider has to include in each provided search as well as avoiding any sketchy sounding sites.
Look at the search I did for “free games” below. Notice how the very first link is actually an Ad provided by Google trying to get you to go to agame.com for your selection of free games. These are sponsored links, as are the ones on the right-hand side of the page. Just because Google or Microsoft accepted money to let a website headline doesn’t always mean it is safe, secure, or even legit. I rarely use the “suggested” links by any company, especially Facebook but we will get to that. So based on the top selections and searches, Gamehouse and Pogo are the top two Google provides and many others have tried. These are most likely to be your safest bet when picking a place to play free games. Also, notice the Green Checkmarks by each link….
If you look above you will see the aforementioned Green Checkmarks to the right of each click-able link. This is a nifty program by McAfee called SiteAdvisor. After it is installed, it shows you their rating on how secure the site is and its overall likelihood of being a legitimate site to browse. This information is collected from the public searches and in-house McAfee agents running and clicking around on a whole lot of websites. This collective information is relayed back to you in the form of three symbols to the right of any click-able link. You will always see a Green Checkmark(good site), Yellow Exclamation Point (possibly good with not much known about it or some people have classified as possibly sketchy), or a Red X (bad news, stay away from it). You are allowed to input your information if one of your favorite sites is Yellow or Red listed to try and help it receive a better rating with the search app but it is usually a great indicator of where not to go.
I usually install this on clients machines when they have had issues in the past with viruses or are not too computer savvy to avoid the bad websites. Install is a breeze but I would choose to disable making it my default search engine as I like to choose my own. It also helps in the unwanted pop-up battle. This will not stop you from going to bad sites, but it will warn you and even sometimes send you to a Warning webpage making sure you are wanting to go to the offending website. If you are wanting a “nanny” type web filter that will not allow you to even view the bad sites, I recommend K9 Web Protection as it allows you to block by category and have a master password to override if need be.
Lock Down That Third Party Email
This next part only concerns those who use a third party program to get and view their email such as Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird to name a few. If you use Hotmail, GMail, Yahoo and check your email on your browser, this will not be for you.
There are two quick and easy things to do to keep you out of harms way of a scripted attack on your PC from an attachment or embedded “viewing” script. To keep your emails from opening just when you click on them in Outlook, simply click View, go down to the Reading Pane option and select OFF. In Thunderbird, select View, Layout, Message Pane to turn it off. If you like having the message view pane, you can also right click on any message and select Delete to avoid it automatically opening. Also, unless you have an antivirus that scans email and their attachments(Avast, Fprot, Adaware,etc), you may want to turn off the Preview function Tools, Trust Center, Attachment Handling, and check Turn Off Attachment Preview. This will prevent an unwanted attachment from launching in case it has something bad with it.
Downloading, Watch Your Back!
For those of you who read this far in hopes that I would cover how to download on Peer 2 Peer sites, what to watch for, and basic file sharing strategies, you will be sorely disappointed. PCTechBytes takes a strong stance against piracy, therefore I wont be discussing that type of downloading. P2P sites are the most virus and trojan-riddled places on the net. Newsgroups are getting worse by the day and the basic “Limewire-esque” programs are about the worst idea you could have when it comes to pirating. Just like avoiding pregnancy, the best bet is to abstain from any of these activities to avoid those who exploit those who use them.
One of my biggest pet peeves is downloading drivers. Most people do not have a clue where to begin and just blindly type “find drivers” into Google and then go with some third party driver hunter program. There are two huge issues with these types of programs:
1) Most aren’t legit and will infect your PC or slow it down to a halt searching for “updated drivers” daily or weekly.
2) System and hardware drivers are FREE from the manufacturer. You have no need to pay to have someone else find them for you.
You have a Dell Inspiron 5150 laptop you just recently reformatted? Great, go to Dell.com to find your drivers. Wiping a Compaq or HP desktop with a fresh install? Jump over to HP.com to find your drivers. Just put a new/used Asus motherboard in and don’t have the CD that came with the board? Fly over to Asus.com to download them. These drivers are maintained by their respective companies for the lifetime of their product. If you have a legacy device, contact them via email or chat and they will provide you with a link to a legacy FTP server or find an updated driver. On the off chance you have an extremely outdated piece of hardware, then you will have to hunt by component manufacturer to find your drivers. This is out of some people’s leagues and is best to take it to an experienced PC tech to line it out before jumbling across the vast internet downloading a “video driver” from someones personal server from a forum.
When downloading other legal items, there isn’t much else to state to keep you safe. If you followed the safe searching instructions above and are on a legitimately good website, the content should be safe for consumption. If you are unsure about the origin of the content you are downloading or the site your are currently trying to get it from, go back and Google for an alternative website that you trust to download the info from. Also, a good antivirus should scan your incoming download to help make sure it is safe. That along with a registry protector like Spybot should keep a sneaky program from running on its own and installing if it passes the antivirus and smell test.
What We Now Know
Computer security is as much the programs we have installed as it is our resolve in the fight. If we are reckless with our PC, even though it has the best AV and other protection, it can become infected quite easily. Simple things such as paying attention to your virtual surroundings will keep your bacon out of the fire and no one likes burnt bacon. If we need help in the battle, McAfee’s SiteAdvisor will help us out when we would be in question about a site. Having a second opinion is good in medicine, why not when you are surfing as well?
What other methods of safety do you take when browsing the web? Share with others in the comments below!