FCS - alarmclock

A Free New Year’s Tip: What Needs Updating to Reduce Risk of Infection for 2011

FCS - alarmclockHappy New Year!!!

Many people like to start the year with a list of “New Year’s Resolutions”. Your computer has its own wish list too, and while it tries to accomplish much of it on its own, it would benefit from a little TLC from you, its user. So how can we help our computers fulfill their wishlist?

1) Check your antivirus/security software. Do you have an antivirus program installed? If yes, typically right-clicking on its icon sitting beside your clock to the far right of your screen, at the bottom of the far right of your screen(in an area we call “the system tray”), and choosing “Update. . . ” will tell you if your antivirus program is up to date or not. If it says updates are available to download, accept the download and ensure your antivirus program is up to date.

If you don’t have an antivirus program that is current(as in the Help/About screen tells you it was created in the past year or so), let alone up to date, let me recommend AVG Free Edition if you are a home/non-profit user. If you are a business user, I recommend more robust paid programs to do the job of keeping your system secure. AVG has paid options more powerful than Free Edition, as do other companies out there.

2) Get Spybot Search and Destroy installed on your system if you don’t have it already. Update it as soon as its installed and then click on its “Immunize” button. Hit the green “+” sign to begin immunizing your computer and any installed Internet Browsers(such as IE, FF, Opera, Chrome, Safari, etc). One note on this, during installation, uncheck “tea timer” or the number of system alerts may drive you as batty as VISTA’s UAC!

3) Check that your computer’s operating system is up to date. If you are using Windows, click on “start” or hit the windows key on your keyboard(it may contain the windows flag image, or say start as well). Click on “Programs’ or “All Programs” and click on “Windows Update” at the top of the program list. Click on Express in the window that comes up if you are using XP. Install ALL critical windows updates, patches, and service packs. At this point, there aren’t any patches that are causing trouble. There were a few in the early fall and a few years ago, but at this point, it should be safe to install all critical updates. If you have had bad experiences with updates in the past, do a system backup before beginning your New Year’s updates.

4) Go to java.com, click on “Do I have Java” under the green download button, to check which version of java you have. If you are current, you will be told you’re curent, however if you are a version or two behind, you will be encouraged to download the latest version of java. Download the installation file, then double-click it to install the latest version of java on your system.

5) Google “flash test”, and click on the Adobe Welcome page at the top of the search results. If one or both boxes for shockwave and flash do not display, click the appropriate installation buttons to install them. If you do this in IE, it will ask to install them automatically and you simply need to grant permission for the installation to occur. IE may throw up a pale yellow bar under its addressbar, asking permission to download the files. Click the bar and give permission to download the file.

6) If you have any other Adobe products installed such as Acrobat, or Acrobat Reader, open those programs, and tell them to check for updates as well.

7) If you are not using Microsoft Update as opposed to Windows Update, and if you have Microsoft Office installed, open Word, and get it to check for updates as well. Office is one of the most attacked suites of programs on a windows-based computer, so make sure you check for Office updates and service packs and install all critical updates.

If you are using any of the chat clients such as MSN, Yahoo, AIM, ICQ, Jabber, GoogleTalk, etc, check each of them for updates as well. Some chat clients such as Trillian have security modules you can install to help catch rogue links that might get sent over IM from infected computers.

Finally, a few reminders for your memory banks. . .

1) Whether over IM, or over the social network of your choice, DO NOT add friends that you do NOT already know! I can’t stress this enough! I know of people who actually encourage strangers to join their friends lists. Cyber criminals have created bots that create user profiles for themselves that then add randomly selected friends to their lists. Once added, they start sending links and videos that are malformed or otherwise infected. Once they infect your system, they steal your socialnetwork login, and/or your IM login, and begin spamming everyone in your contact lists. So let me repeat: DO NOT ADD ANYONE TO YOUR FRIENDS LIST OR CONTACT LIST THAT YOU DO NOT ALREADY KNOW IN SOME MANNER!!!

2) Don’t click on suspicious links, misspelled links, or links that are vague in content. Verify with the sender that they actually intended to send you the link and verify its content before clicking on it. I realize this removes the element of surprise that your friend might have wanted for you. But with cyber criminals making use of short url services such as bit.ly and tinurl.com, you need to be certain that the link is safe before clicking on it. If the short url comes with a sufficiently explicit description that is verifiable, then chances are, its safer. Some security programs out there will actually warn you if a link is bad. Some browsers such as Opera 10 are also building in safeguards to warn you if a link is poisonned.

3) Point 2 goes for your email as well. Make sure your security software’s email scanner is operational and turned on. Also learn about the use of rules in your chosen email program. It is possible to filter for obviously spammy terms and send them directly to your deleted items box. Turn off your preview window in your chosen email program as well. This will prevent the potential for activating infected content when you single-click on an email. Turning off your preview pane means double-clicking to see the contents of an email, but then you are able to single-click on unwanted email to delete it without activating it.

4) Never assume that because you received an email, it must be important!!! Gone are the days when only those who needed your attention would send you emails! Spammers do want your attention, so do cyber criminals. Be careful on what you click, and if you don’t recognize a sender, and their subject line has no bearing on anything you are involved in, DON’T OPEN IT!!! Delete it! Educate all your contacts to give detailed, descriptive subject lines so that you don’t accidentally delete their email.

5) Be careful where you surf online. “Adult” sites are widely known for being carriers of malware that infect computers. I have lost count of the number of machines I have cleaned because computer users insisted on visiting these kinds of sites. Other sites equally at fault are warez sites, places where you can get pirated software for little to no cost. Free music and file-sharing sites are also known to be unwitting distributors of malware. Avoid these sites.

6) Sometimes ad networks unwittingly carry drive-by installation threats on otherwise reputable sites such as NYTimes, MSN, and other sites. The browser most susceptable to drive-by installations is Internet Explorer. Microsoft has put alot of effort into security in their latest version of IE, version 8. Other browsers such as Chrome, FF, and Opera 10 don’t allow this behaviour as easily. If you are using a version of windows that doesn’t let you use IE8, strongly consider an alternative browser to keep your computer safe. There may be a learning curve, but that is preferable to paying a tech to clean up your system yet again.

If you follow these tips for 2011, you will greatly reduce your chances of contracting a virus, worm, trojan, or other forms of malware. If there is a safety tip I have missed, please add it in the comments here.

If you aren’t sure how to carry out these safety tips and you live in the Kelowna area, don’t hesitate to give FACT Computer Services a call, and we’ll come by to help you get set up for the coming year.

Once again, have a safe, secure, and happy New Year!

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