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Dec 16

How does a computer get infected with a virus or spyware?

There are dozens of ways a computer can become infected with spyware, viruses, and other malware. Below is a list of methods of how your computer can become infected. I’ve made this list in the order I believe to be most to least common.

    1. Accepting without reading

      1. By far one of the most common ways a computer becomes infected is when a user accepts what they see on the screen without reading the prompt before proceeding. For instance:
      2. While browsing the Internet, an Internet advertisement or window appears that says your computer is infected or that a unique plug-in is required. Without fully understanding what it is you’re getting, you accept the prompt.
      3. When installing or updating a program, you’re prompted (often check boxes already checked) if it’s okay to install additional programs that you may not want or are designed to monitor your usage of the program.
    2. Downloading any infected software

      1. When downloading any software (programs, utilities, games, updates, demos, etc.) via the Internet, make sure you’re downloading them from a reliable source. Be sure to run your downloads through your antivirus and spyware scanners upon completion. As I stated in a previous section, during the installation process, read all prompts about what the program is putting on your computer.
    3. Opening e-mail attachments

      1. Computers can become infected when users open e-mail attachments that contain malicious code. Even if the message is from a co-worker, friend, or family member, always use caution before opening a link or downloading an attachment. As a general rule, do not open e-mail you were not expecting to receive.

  1. Inserting or connecting an infected USB drive or disc

    1. Any disk, disc, or thumb drive connected or inserted into your computer can be infected with a virus. As long as something is writable a virus can move from a computer to that disc or USB drive. A common tactic for malicious hackers to gain access to a network is to leave a USB drive laying around and when someone puts the drive into their computer it is infected with a virus or trojan horse.
      1. Note: This same rule applies to any networked drive or computer. If another computer has write access to your computer or a drive accessible by your computer a virus can move between computers on a network.
  2. Not running the latest updates

    1. Many of the updates, especially those associated with Microsoft Windows, are security oriented. Always keep your operating system and programs up to date. The plug-ins associated with your browser can also contain security vulnerabilities. To make sure you have the latest versions.
  3. Pirating software, music, or movies

    1. If you or someone on your computer is participating in a bit torrent program or some other unlawful exchange of copyrighted music, movies, or software, you may be at risk. Sometimes these files and programs contain viruses, spyware or malicious software in addition to what you believe you are downloading.
  4. No antivirus spyware scanner

    1. If you’re running a computer with Microsoft Windows, I highly recommended you have some form of antivirus and spyware protection. This software helps to prevent and clean up virus and malware infections. Just because you have these installed does not mean you are 100% protected.
    2. Keeping your computer free of viruses and malware requires you, the user, to be vigilante and always paying attention to what you are installing and putting onto your computer.

Now you might be asking how, well first of all change your browsing habits. I’ve found that when I say “change your browsing habits” many people have no idea what I’m talking about. This is an unfortunate truth in our world, and by writing this post that I can help to educate some of you. The internet is full of viruses, trojans, malware, and spyware. Whether you are using a Mac or PC, updating your operating system is very important. Updates are released on a regular basis to help protect your computer and to keep it running smoothly.

Update your Web Browser

Your web browser is your gateway to the internet and is often times the entry point for computer viruses. It is therefore important that you frequently check for updates to your browser.

Internet Explorer – Updates are includes as part of your Windows updates
Mozilla Firefox
– Go to http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/upgrade.html
Download the latest version and run the installer. This will not delete any bookmarks or personal settings
Safari
– Safari updates are included with Mac OS X updates.
Chrome – Updates its self in the background

General Browsing Habits

  1. Always check the address bar at the top of the screen to ensure you’re at the official website, and not a carbon copy of the website you think you’re at, hosted at a different address.
  2. Never click on pop-ups
  3. Always look for the little yellow padlock and the letters “https” rather than “http” when signing into an online account or making online purchases. This means that information you provide, such as your name, address, and credit card information, is being encrypted on it’s way to the web server that hosts the website you’re buying from. This is important because this information crosses many public devices before reaching its destination, and a man in the middle can access this data if it’s not encrypted.
  4. Avoid shady sites which promise offers too good to be true such as: free electronics, free software that you normally have to pay for, pirated software, nude celebrities, and the list goes on.
  5. Install Anti-Virus software. I prefer Avira, alongside malwarebytes anti-malware probut there are other providers out there as well. It’s up to you to get the lowdown on each and make an informed decision as to which product to use.
  6. Always keep in mind that your Anti-Virus software is not a get out of jail free card to do whatever you like on the Internet and not get a virus. If you do not practice the safe browsing habits listed here, along with some good ole’ fashion common sense, in conjunction with your AV software, then you may do something which circumvents your AV software’s protection (such as downloading and installing a virus yourself).

E-mail Habits

  1. Don’t open e-mails from people you don’t know.
  2. Don’t open e-mail attachments from people you don’t know.
  3. Avoid using your e-mail address for random registrations. It is highly advisable to create a throwaway e-mail for programs/sites that require registration. View these Google search results for some Disposable Email services (Note: some sites disallow use of these accounts)
  4. Beware of e-mail attachments from people you do know. If the e-mail said nothing about an attachment or you weren’t expecting one, get in touch with the person through some medium other than e-mail and find out what’s in the attachment, and make sure they sent it.
  5. Never respond to Spam e-mails. If you don’t want to part with thousands of dollars of your own money, then trash those generic e-mails from random foreign guys, who needs an American citizen to set him up a bank account for whatever contrived reason, and will split the millions he makes by doing this with you, but somewhere along the line needs you to wire him a large cash sum. You’re not investing in your future; you’re giving your money to a con artist.

Social Networking Habits

  1. Be careful who you add as a friend to your social networking account. Day in and day out you probably post personal information such as names of people you know, where you work, where you’re currently at, what you’re doing, phone numbers, addresses, where you go to school, where you work, etc. This information can be used against you in many different ways.
  2. Keep a close eye on what applications you add. There are many applications on social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, etc which enhance our social networking experience. What we often don’t consider is what kind of privileges we’re bestowing to the people who wrote the software. Just as programs you install on your computer or phones can do malicious things, apps you add to your profile can do malicious things as well, or in the very least unexpected things.
  3. Watch out for strange messages from your friends which are full of bad spelling and grammar, and contain links to external pages There are worms and other malware, a prime example being the Koobface worm, which spread fake messages asking you to check out a video in a link, or some other action. The link actually leads to an attack site where a script will try to install malware on your computer.

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