Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Don't open your computer to strangers

Most parents tell their kids not to open the door to strangers. Most computer users could use the technological equivalent of that talk.

I know several people who run their Windows-based computers using NO security software at all. No protection against viruses, trojans or any sort of malware.

Why do they do this? Partly because they hate how anti-virus software slows down their computers. And partly because they know what activities to avoid.

These people may be knowledgeable computer users, but everybody who owns a computer needs to understand at least the basics of computing safety – even people who own Macs, for which the number of viruses in the wild is infinitesimal compared to the quantity roaming the Internet in search of vulnerable Windows computers.

Safe computing behaviours

Follow these tips and you will do more to protect your computer from malware than any security software ever could. (Did I miss any? Add your own tips in the comments section.)

  1. Only install legitimate software. (This goes for your phone as well.) Hackers often pack extra software along with pirated titles, taking advantage of the naiveté common among “bargain seekers” to build botnets, steal their personal information and commit other digital crimes.
  2. Do NOT install software you download from file-sharing sites or any site you don’t know enough about to trust.
  3. Do NOT install software using a disc that does not show a software publisher’s legitimate logo, for which you do not have a valid product key.
  4. Do NOT click through ANY links from unsolicited email (aka spam) for ANY reason – just delete the message.
  5. Ensure your operating system is also legitimate. If it isn’t, you might not be able to download and install security updates, which leaves your entire computer vulnerable to attacks that updated computer systems shrug off.
  6. While you’re at it, uninstall any software you used to use but no longer do. Warning: If you don’t recognize certain software and aren’t sure if you need it, DON’T REMOVE IT!
  7. Use “less popular” (and always updated) web browsers.
  8. Use the firewalls in your router and operating system.
  9. Do NOT send private information, like banking details, using unsecured wireless connections like those in coffee shops or airports.
  10. Own a Mac? Do NOT install anti-virus software on it (even after the MacDefender thing – see video at the end of this post).
  11. Own a Windows-based computer? Install and run valid security software (NOT stuff that unexpectedly pops messages up on your screen). Tip: If you install the free version of security software and it pops up messages urging you to upgrade to the paid version, you can usually ignore such messages.
  12. If you work for a company that employs an IT department, speak with IT staff about any questions you have. They’ll be happy to know employees take computer security seriously, since employees often remotely access company systems using their own personal devices.
  13. Create separate user accounts for everybody who shares a computer, and make sure NONE of those accounts (not even yours) is an administrator account. Encourage users to password-protect their accounts.
  14. Create ONE password-protected administrator account that you only use to install software.You make it more difficult for malware to take action on your computer if you can’t use administrator privileges when the malware arrives.
  15. Do NOT trust unexpected popup messages from software you haven’t installed. (Check out the MacDefender video below for a great explanation of what this can look like on a Mac. Windows computer owners are likely used to such bogus messages, but the narrative in this video is useful for them as well.)