Computer viruses have evolved over the years from the early days of mostly causing malicious damage to present day sophisticated cybercrime which includes Worms and Trojans (that can steal passwords and other personal information) and Adware and Spyware that can report your internet behavior back to parent organizations.
If your business is heavily dependent on computer technology or even if you just use your desktop or laptop for email and basic record keeping, consider what would happen if your systems became infected by malware and (for example):
- Some or all of your passwords were stolen (which could provide the hacker access to your bank accounts, etc.).
- Your sensitive business information (documents, accounts, email, etc.) was compromised.
- Your computers were rendered unusable and required expensive repair.
Note that since Microsoft Windows is the dominant operating system by market share (especially for business users) most viruses are targeted to Windows-based computers, which includes Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8.
Here are some tips to avoid becoming a virus victim:
Whether you use the free Microsoft-supplied anti-virus/spyware software such as Windows Defender or a third party product such as McAfee, Kaspersky, etc. make sure you keep the software up to date (which should be done automatically unless you have chosen otherwise). Perform regular virus scans on your system and make sure your anti-virus software is always enabled and at full protection levels. If you one day discover that your anti-virus software is not enabled, it's likely that your system has been infected and the anti-virus software has been disabled by malware.
- If you are still using Windows XP consider upgrading as soon as possible. Microsoft has ended support for Windows XP as of April 8, 2014 and system patches are no longer available. Without regular fixes to correct flaws and exploits in the operating system you will be more vulnerable to viruses and security threats, even though the anti-virus software vendors may continue to issue product updates for a year or two.
- Use a hardware firewall (router) to connect your computer(s) to the internet. This will partially isolate your computers from the internet and prevent most forms of incoming attacks.
- Make sure your software firewall (Windows Firewall) is always turned on. It is enabled by default in all Windows versions. A software firewall gives you control over which applications are allowed to send outgoing traffic to the internet, thereby preventing Worms and Trojans and other unauthorized applications from transmitting data.
- Be aware of the nefarious ways that hackers can trick you into installing malicious software from websites. For example, when accessing some web pages a popup message will inform you that your system is infected and you should download and install XYZ software to remove the virus. Many of these are simply spyware disguised as legitimate software applications and once installed will compromise the security of your system(s).
- If your system becomes extremely slow, unstable, or begins generating unfamiliar error messages this can be an indication that the system is infected. Immediately perform a full virus scan. If no malware is detected the problem is likely due to a corrupted application or Windows operating system or hardware problem.
- Make sure your employees exercise good computer security habits. Establish policies for the installation of software and for surfing and downloading from the net. Don’t let your young children access your business systems – they are not for play!
Practice these tips and don’t let your guard down when it comes to computer security.
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