Computer got a virus? Is your data being held hostage with its new owners demanding a ransom? Is your web browsing experience being hijacked with seemingly random redirects to spammy websites? I can possibly help you… or if you want to prevent that stuff from happening, i can possibly help you too…
Here’s a quick, 3 step process to guarantee you’ll never get a virus:
1. Disconnect your computer from the internet
2. Disconnect computer from all local networks (wired and wireless)
3. Disable all network cards and all ports on your computer
and that’s how to ensure you’ll never get a virus… but that’s not the answer you were looking for, was it? You wanted a silver bullet piece of software to download… sorry.. it doesn’t exist… but what I can give you is a top 10 list of tips / links / advice.
1. Be more suspicious, less gullible
If you read the title of this post and seriously thought (even for a brief second) that there was some silver bullet or series of steps you could take to eliminate the threat of a virus, then that’s the root cause of any past, present or future virus you’ll get (you). But that’s ok because I’m here to help you and you’re presumably trying to learn.
I could be evil and encourage you to download some magic software I created that would fix all of your problems. You’d download it thinking I was being very generous and it would run some fake tech scanning thingamajig that would scan your system for a few minutes, detect some fake problems and ‘fix’ them successfully. It would then be crucial that you left the software run the background in order to protect you from future threats. Meanwhile, every keystroke is being recorded and sent to me and I’ve got remote access to all your files (Yay!).
If you think that’s a tad extremely or unrealistic you’d be right, but that’s not the point. The point is you have to fear the worst with every piece of software or hardware you use. Think like a criminal… think like a tinfoil hat person. The government *are* after you… that guy that give you his usb stick to print something for you *is* trying to infiltrate your network and spy on you or gain access to your bank account.
That email attachment from your best friend? It triggers a bomb located inside your computer, put there by the manufacturer two years ago. The bomb will detonate and kill you if you open that email attachment. That’s the state of mind you need to be in online. Hopefully you’re getting the message at this point – stop being so gullible and casually clicking, downloading and opening up things without giving it a second thought. This is the best antivirus software you can get… and it’s free.
2. Know what operating system & browser you use
And i don’t mean ‘Windows’ and ‘Internet Explorer’. I mean version numbers. Windows 8.1? Internet Explorer 8? If you know the versions of the software you’re using, you’ll then be able to determine if they’re wildly out of date / problematic.
For example if you’re looking for help on how to best secure Windows XP and Internet Explorer 8, that’s a problem… The question you should be asking is “why am I still using XP and Internet Explorer 8?”. If those questions are too technical for you and I’ve lost you already, you need to do some reading… not being able to answer those questions is like not being able to answer what make and model of car you drive. Not being familiar with these basic terms and technologies means you won’t be able to troubleshoot… and you’ll be an easy target, possibly willing to respond to that email from the bank asking for your log in details as they carry out some routine maintenance.
Speccy is a simple application that will tell you all you need to know about your system and current setup.
3. Backup. Regularly. To multiple locations.
I don’t need to tell you this. It’s like telling you not to use your mobile phone when driving or using a different password for every website / service you use. It’s advice we’re already aware of and most of us ignore said advice. Why? Well let me tell you who doesn’t ignore that advice… people who’ve been involved in accidents where they’ve been on the phone while driving… people who’ve had important data stolen / destroyed in the past. In other words, most of us only realise the danger when the danger is unfolding before our eyes…
The great thing about data is that unlike humans, you can clone it and clone it multiple times to multiple locations. Imagine if you could do that with humans. If you could make a copy of yourself and store it in different locations, just in case the original version of yourself dies in an accident. That would be a sensible thing to do, right? Maybe keep a backup of yourself in the attic and then another in a bank vault and perhaps one at a friend’s house… it would be silly to keep 3 backups of yourself in the one place of course because they all get destroyed in a house fire… but the chances of them all getting destroyed at the same time in 3 different locations? well it’s virtually nil.
I view backups as a free insurance policy. An insurance policy where I can select the most expensive package with the best rewards and pay absolutely nothing for it. Most people can also get the same package but guess what they choose? They choose to run with no insurance whatsoever… despite the fact it’s free. Why is that? I don’t know… people tend to insure things they value… their lives, their health, house, car, phone, pets, sometimes even laptops and computers themselves… but they don’t insure their data which is usually more valuable than the hardware they pay to insure.
4. Remove stuff you don’t use.
The more files, folders and apps you have, the more places a virus has to hide or potentially access.
5. Use CCleaner
CCleaner should be one of your first ports of call when trying to doing a spring clean. It’ll get rid of junk and temporary files with a single button click, often freeing up gigabytes of space and fixing a bunch of missing or broken registry entries.
6. Use Microsoft Security Essentials
It’s free and it’s made by Microsoft to help detect and prevent spyware or malware from making its way on to your Windows machine. Download it if you don’t have it, run a scan and let it sit in the background permanently.
7. Scan your system with Malwarebytes
8. Scan using other trusted software
Sometimes Malwarebytes can’t quite solve the problem, in which case you may need to turn to other solutions. Some other virus scanning tools I’ve used would be:
Microsoft malicious software removal – http://www.microsoft.com/security/pc-security/malware-removal.aspx
9. Don’t pay for antivirus software (unless you know why you’re paying for it)
Lots of people pay for antivirus software and assume that because they’re paying for antivirus protection that they can’t / won’t get a virus. They’re paying for it because it makes them sleep easier at night. Do they understand what they’re paying for or the fact that they can get similar software for free? No. Norton and McAfee are recognised names… why? Because typically they’ll come pre-installed on laptops and desktops from manufacturers. 30 day trials or 60 days trials…
The thought process goes something like this… “Oh damn, Norton is alerting me to the fact it has expired with a bunch of annoying pop ups. I don’t want my computer getting a virus plus i want to get rid of these red ‘danger’ messages. I’ll follow the instructions and pay for a year”. No questioning as to what Norton is doing or why Norton is better than an alternative. It goes back to point no.1 – don’t just accept things because they came installed on your computer or have always been there. Question why they’re there and whether you need them. Especially if you’re paying for them.
If you must install anti-virus software, check out these independent sites…
Personally, I don’t use antivirus software. I’m of the opinion it’s more hassle than it’s worth. But then again i can troubleshoot and fix whatever problem should arise.
10. Safe mode is your friend
A smart / aggressive virus can be a pain in the ass to diagnose and remove. Sometimes various tools can detect it and remove it but it can play dead and restart when you reboot your system. It’s best practice to run most of these scans and tools in safe mode, which ensures only the bare minimum functionality is running, which usually means the virus doesn’t get a chance to start-up, so once you’re in safe mode, that’s your chance to squash it while it can’t fight back.