October 18, 2018
Getting a computer virus is a nightmare. Your system slows down, pop-ups may start bombarding your screen, and worst of all, your data is at risk. A computer virus, as defined by Comodo Security Solutions, “is a malicious program that self-replicates by copying itself to another program.” This means that even if it originates in your email software, for example, it will spread on its own to other documents and programs within your computer. As the virus spreads more of your data is at risk of being corrupted, deleted, and/or used by hackers to gain access to your bank accounts, health records, and other sensitive information.
We strongly advocate for security software, especially if you use a PC rather than a Mac, but there are other preventive measures that are just as important. Even the best security software is vulnerable to human error. If someone on your team clicks a malicious link in an email or enters sensitive information onto a fraudulent site, your business is put at risk. Fortunately, the following five tips combined with a reputable security software will greatly reduce the chances of a virus infecting your computers at home or in your workplace.
Tip #1 Backup your data
Frequently backing up your data is your most important defense against viruses. Whether your business is stored in the cloud or on a physical server, frequent data backup can mean the difference between disrupting your entire business, losing customers, revenue, and essential data, and continuing business as usual when disaster strikes. It also allows you to react quickly and effectively if you suspect your computer or entire system is infected. Keep in mind, however, that not all backups are created equal. We recommend always backing up to a remote repository, like the cloud, versus storing locally. Backing up your data to a USB drive, for example, doesn’t guarantee that your data is protected from virus corruption as it is connected directly to your computer. (It also doesn’t protect you from physical destruction or theft.)
Tip #2 Know how to spot social engineering
Social engineering takes advantage of human psychology rather than targeting a software vulnerability. For example, a social engineering scam might imitate the email address of someone the victim knows and trusts in an effort to procure their credit card number. Another common tactic is to impersonate IT support or financial institutions in an effort to persuade the victim to reveal usernames and passwords. (These scams are also known as phishing of spear phishing.) Familiarizing yourself with social engineering tactics and spreading awareness across your team is your first line of defense against a computer virus or other type of cyber attack.
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Tip #3 Keep a clear head
Social engineering is designed to target our weaknesses, and we are especially weak when uninformed. Pop-ups are a commonly used tactic because they catch you by surprise and can scare you into taking an action that puts your data at risk.
For example, a window might pop-up on your screen with a warning that states your hard drive is failing or a particular program has been compromised. The pop-up window may utilize ominous-looking red text in all caps in hopes that you will panic and follow the instructions. (Typically either to click a link or call a phone number.) For those unaware of social engineering tactics, this strategy works like a charm. The victim panics and in their state of distress, blindly clicks the link and unwittingly downloads a virus onto their computer. Or they call the number and then grant the hacker remote control access to their computer because they believe it’s the only way to protect their operating system. (Pro Tip: You should never allow anyone remote access to your device unless you’re certain of the person’s identity and company affiliation.)
In these situations it’s best to keep a clear head— don’t panic if you receive an “emergency” message. Pause, take a deep breath, and read the message carefully before taking any action. If the message is within your internet browser or a computer program like Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Word, force quit the program. (Here’s how to force quit a program in Windows and here’s how to do it on a Mac.) If the message appears on your desktop and is not affiliated with a specific program, immediately shut down your computer rather than clicking on the pop-up itself. If necessary, shutdown by holding the power button down for five seconds.
Tip #4 Keep your operating system up to date
If you’ve read any of our other posts you’ve probably seen this tip come up several times before. Installing the latest version of your operating system and keeping it updated ensures that your computer is equipped with the latest security patches. Microsoft or Apple develops these patches as soon as they discover a weakness in their system that could be exploited. If your operating system is out of date, hackers are more likely to target your computer because they can more easily gain access. It is especially important for businesses to keep ALL work computers up to date because if just one computer is infected, the virus can spread throughout the entire network.
Tip #5 Secure your Wi-Fi router
Most of us take the set-it-and-forget approach with our Wi-Fi routers, especially at home. As the workforce becomes more mobile, it becomes increasingly important to secure Wi-Fi routers both at work and at home in order to protect company data. Learn how to setup a secure Wi-Fi connection and the difference between WEP, WPA, and WPA2 security protocols here.
Here are four more tips to protect yourself from a computer virus courtesy of Comodo Security Solutions:
What to do if your computer does get a virus
Preventive measures are great but it’s important to know what steps to take if these measures fail or if you’ve let your guard down and made yourself vulnerable to an attack. If you think your computer has been infected by a virus, immediately shut it down to stop the virus from spreading any further and contact an IT professional to clean your device.
Have further questions about virus protection for your business? Get in touch with one of our trusted IT professionals.
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