Saturday, October 10, 2009

Staying safe in the Internet age

Malicious software (malware) used to only infect computers through the floppy diskette or email. With the explosive expansion of the Internet, those days are long gone. Nowadays we see malware make use of network shares, USB storage devices, drive-by downloads and many more to get into your PC. They also hide very cunningly to avoid detection by most popular antivirus or antispyware software and confuse experienced users.

We need a way to eliminate contact with malware for our own safety, if nothing else.

Here's five suggestions to do just that:

Use only essential software - This should be a no brainer yet many people ignore the fact that having more software installed also means more opportunities for malware to invade your computer. Install only software that you frequently use to reduce available attack surface on your computer.

Keep your software updated - Many software nowadays come with an autoupdate feature that alerts you to new version releases, including Windows. Make use of that to keep your software up-to-date. It's not enough to simply use less software. You need to update them to benefit from security fixes. Alternatively, check for updates on a regular schedule. I suggest a monthly check but go with whatever you're comfortable with (weekly, bi-weekly, quarterly).

Use antivirus software - Possibly the most common advice and a good one, too. There's so many different malware out there that it's good to have a tool that can recognise the known ones and alert you before an infection can happen. With free antivirus such as AVG or AntiVir available, there really is no excuse not to have one installed. If you can't or won't spend on a premium product, then at least use a free version for the basic protection.

Be alert - The most important tool for malware prevention lies between your ears. No amount of high tech tools or money is going to help if you don't pay attention to what you're doing with the computer. Software tools embody the knowledge we've learned about how malware behaves or how they look like but they are ultimately unthinking tools. The best antivirus software can't do anything to stop the person using the computer from authorising malware to install itself.

Use Linux - Be prepared to learn how to use your computer all over again. Do some research on the available options before commiting to such a huge shift. Distributions like Ubuntu put great effort into making things 'Just Work' for the average user.

In a commercialised world, malware will never cease to exist. So long as there's profit in gleaning personal information malware will persist to be a problem. Following the above simple guides will greatly help in softening the impact of malware in our lives.