I have been dealing with infection after infection of various computer viruses, spyware, malware, scareware and other crap all week long. Frankly, it's pissing me off!
There are two reasons it's getting under my skin. First is the people who create these things. If I ever meet someone who has created and distributed malicious code I will beat them to death with my bare hands (and do it slowly to prolong the agony). Second is the end-users who get infected.
Now, I realize that not everyone is technically adept but there's a difference between illiteracy/ignorance and stupidity. I don't know how many times I've been asked, "How did I get infected?" and wanted to respond with, "Well, those six different browser toolbars, the dozen or so screen savers, three weather trackers, four internet radio programs and that shareware game you got from aunt Matilda through your email just might have something to do with it." But, you see, I can't say that. I have to be polite and not make them feel... bad.
So here, dear friends, is Uncle Bubby's Guide to Keeping Your Computer Infection-Free.
1. Beware add-on software! When installing any software don't just blindly keep clicking Next. Read the screen and make sure you're not going to inadvertently do something you don't want to do. When you install Java, for instance, it will install the MSN/Bing toolbar into Internet Explorer unless you uncheck the option to install it. I run the Google toolbar at home and have no problem but some of these coupon and internet radio and other toolbars are just an invitation for malicious software to infect your system. Besides, if you run too much of that junk it takes up half of your screen space and can significantly slow down your computer.
2. Watch where you're clicking. Just visiting a web site with malicious code behind it can get you infected. You don't have to actually do anything while you're there. There was a period of time not too long ago where some of these infected sites spoofed (fooled) Google into thinking they were very popular thus putting them at the top of many popular search results. Some of them, on the surface, we direct clones of legitimate sites with the nasty code slipped in behind it. But the URL (web address) was something like the IP number (http://192.168.1.1/badmojo.html) or was from a foreign country (http://cnn.anysite.de/infectedclone.html). When you're searching or surfing the web, take a look at where the link is sending you before you click on it (hint: if you hover your mouse over the link, the URL [address] will appear in the lower-left corner of your browser window).
3. Do not trust any link or file from anyone you do not know. This one should be self explanatory but you would be surprised how many people will click on a link they receive via email when they have no clue who sent it to them.
4. Do not trust any link or file from anyone you do know. Just because Aunt Matilda sent you a link to the latest version of Teddy Bear Bowling and she thinks it's the hottest thing since sunburn does not mean that it's safe (or that she's not already infected herself). The malicious payload could be in the web site it's downloaded from or in the program itself.
5. Do not use peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing programs such as Shareaza, BearShare, Kazaa, and Limewire. Not only are these programs a breeding ground for malicious code but also most of the files you get from them are being illegally traded. Just stay away from them.
6. Do not load software you do not need to do your job on a day-to-day basis onto your work computer. This is not an absolute necessity but it makes the job easier for people like me. You reduce your chances of getting your computer infected and possibly losing some potentially valuable data. You also keep all that extra (and sometimes poorly written) software from slowing down your computer. A lot of these animated screen savers and internet radio programs and weather watchers keep an agent running in the background taking up your valuable system resources. Think about it this way, would you rather walk down a hallway where the people who are supposed to be there are in or near their offices or one with a bunch of people who really have no business being there loitering about?
What it boils down to, people, is this. You practice safe sex, practice safe computing, too.