You don’t need a doctor to tell you the common cold is a nuisance, but that flu can knock you out of the game for weeks. Yet most of us don’t realise the same applies to computer viruses: some bugs cause little harm and are easily cleared up, others run amok and can bring everything crashing down with potentially fatal results.
So how can you inoculate your computer or network against such attacks? This 5-step guide shows how a little knowledge and foresight goes a long way.
1. Prevention is better than cure: invest in quality anti-virus software.
Relying on off-the-shelf freebies or applications might seem tempting, but they don’t provide adequate protection. Just as biological viruses mutate, new and more sophisticated threats emerge with alarming speed every day. And, according to a number of credible reports, they are on the increase.
While there’s no guarantee of avoiding bugs altogether, buying professional-grade protection does significantly lower the risk and can ‘medicate’ in the case of an infection; frequently updated, they protect against a wider range of threats, provide fixes, and give additional features such as custom scans.
2. Boost your computer’s immune system: set up your PC to avoid contamination.
As well as the obvious rule not to click on email links or attachments without first scanning for viruses – especially those from unknown sources – simple changing a few settings can effectively shut ‘backdoors’ so the critters can’t get in:
- Disable autorun, so you need to scan media such as USB keys prior to manually running them
- Disable image previews, so images and graphics harbouring viruses don’t open automatically in your mailbox.
We also need to learn to ‘surf smart’: use search engines with built-in pop-up blockers; manually enter web addresses and ensure a good firewall is in place.
3. Now wash your hands : regularly scan PCs with anti-malware software
Setting your system to scan automatically (so it doesn’t get forgotten) at least once a week during quiet periods removes some bugs before they can multiply. Likewise, set your software to get regular updates and renew your license – automatically. No good using last year’s vaccination!
4. Prepare for the worst-case scenario: have an emergency plan in place
Backing up your system in a safe place means less time lost and less stress in the event of contagion. For SMEs this may simply consist of getting heads out of The Cloud and putting hard-earned data in it. For larger businesses, a detailed disaster recovery plan is highly recommended.
5. Take a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down: know your enemy
Viruses are actually just one type of malware – short for ‘malicious software’ – which describes just about anything designed to cause harm to your PC or access your data.
As getting a handle on the jargon helps to stay one step ahead, we finish with the speed-dating equivalent of the bug-buster dictionary:
- Viruses do what it says on the tin: infect and reproduce to cause maximum damage
- Worms bury their way into networks, usually through a security hole, spread to others and then party till dawn causing havoc : rebooting your PC constantly and slowing it down
- Spyware steals information
- Trojan horses create a backdoor and then gallop around letting others in to remotely control your PC
Stay well with your 5-a-day!