How to Protect Your Computer from Viruses
What You Need to Know
- A computer virus is a computer program or a piece of code that can copy itself and infect a computer, usually with damaging results.
- Computer viruses can be a minor annoyance or a major problem; at worst, they can wipe your entire hard drive or make your computer completely inoperable.
- Since most viruses are what are known as executable files, they could lie dormant and undetected on your computer for months, if not years.
- Taking care online is the most effective way of protecting yourself from computer viruses. Above all, be wary of opening links or downloading attachments you don't completely trust.
- Similarly, think twice before you send an attachment you don't know is virus-free to colleagues or friends.
- Fraudsters also use social media to pass on viruses, so again, it's a good idea to treat any links or attachments you are sent through the likes of Twitter or Facebook with caution.
- Making sure all of your software is up-to-date and making use of firewalls and anti-virus software can also help guard you against viruses.
What Are Computer Viruses?
Put simply, a computer virus is a computer program or a piece of code that can copy itself and infect a computer, usually with damaging results. A virus may either enter a computer via a piece of hardware or through an online connection and may infect single files or whole networks. It is this self-replicating ability of viruses that allows them to spread from one computer to another and which distinguishes them from other types of malware such as adware and spyware programmes.
Generally speaking, computer viruses attach themselves to executable files. So, your computer may have a virus, but it won't infect your hardware until you open or run the malicious programme. As such, it's important to run regular searches for embedded viruses as well as taking proactive steps to guard your machine against new infections.
How to Guard Against Viruses
Computer viruses can wreak havoc in a computer and can even make a machine completely inoperable or completely wiping your hard drive. However, by using a little common sense and by being web-savvy you can significantly reduce the risk of your falling victim to one of the thousands of viruses out there.
Take Care Online
The vast majority of viruses are passed on over the internet. While viruses are always evolving, by using a little common sense and taking care online, you can significantly reduce the chances of your computer getting infected. Effective ways of keeping safe include:
- Avoiding 'dodgy' websites, including – but by no means limited to – adult sites. Indeed, football streaming sites, gambling sites and even shopping sites (including special offer pop-ups) can be very dangerous. As such, it pays to be wary if such a site asks you to open an attachment, so always err on the side of caution.
- Deleting suspicious-looking emails right away. If an email looks dodgy, chances are it is, so don't even take the risk of opening it as even this can be enough to infect your computer.
- Not opening any unsolicited email attachments such as executable files, documents or spreadsheets and don't forward them on to friends or colleagues without checking them for viruses first.
- Being wary of opening links forwarded to you via social media. Fraudsters are adept at using the likes of Twitter and Facebook to spread their viruses, so think twice before you click.
Make Use of Firewalls
Perhaps the easiest means of protecting your computer from a virus is by turning on your firewall. As the name suggests, this piece of technology serves as a digital barrier between a computer and the internet, detecting possible threats and blocking them.
Most PCs, when bought new, come with firewalls included. The vast majority of operating systems, including most notably Windows, come with an in-built firewall, with most allowing users to tweak their own filters. It's also possible to beef up your computer security by making use of one of the many free firewalls available over the internet, though generally speaking, these may require a little technical expertise and are aimed largely at those users whose online habits might place them at heightened risk of infection.
Keep Your Computer Systems Up-to-Date
Criminals are always looking to exploit weaknesses in computer software, so agreeing to regular, official updates is key to keeping safe. Fortunately, for the most parts, you will automatically be made aware when a new update is available, with the likes of Microsoft Apple and Adobe regularly updating their systems.
As well as updating software, it's also well worth updating your internet browser every couple of months, particularly given that the majority of new viruses are passed on to users this way. Again, however, this is easy to do, with Mozilla's Firefox and Internet Explorer both proactively working to patch-up any potential weaknesses.
Failing to install the latest software updates can leave you vulnerable to attacks, including virus infections, while some systems will simply stop working after a while as they become incompatible with other programs.
If you are loading software onto your computer, be sure to use originals rather than pirated versions as copied software is always a risk.
To complement common sense, firewalls and system updates, anti-virus software should also be used to keep your PC safe.
A number of big names offer free programs, such as Microsoft's Security Essentials, while other well-respected developers, including the likes of AVG and Kaspersky have extra-tough anti-virus programs you can download off the internet for a price.
However, be wary of signing up to programs you have never heard of, as these may in fact be harmful. Always read-up on prospective anti-virus software systems, and if in doubt, avoid them.
- Find more information on how computer viruses work.
- It isn't only viruses that can harm your wallet when browsing online - be aware of potential phishing attacks by following our guide.
- For further protection, read our guide to Facebook to ensure that you stay safe while on the social network,
- Gadgets such smartphones can also be damaged by viruses. Read our guide to insuring an iPhone to make sure yours is protected.