7 Common Sense Tips to Help You Avoid Catching Malware

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malware protectionThe Internet has made a lot possible. Accessing information and communicating with people from far away has become a breeze. At the same time, however, our curiosity can quickly lead us down dark virtual alleys that may not seem dark at all. In fact, the biggest security risk always is the user!

Catching malware is easy, but generally it can also be avoided easily. All it takes is a little common sense.

1. Open Only Links & Downloads You Trust

This should be obvious, but it cannot be stressed enough. You should not visit dubious websites or download questionable or illegal files. This is almost a sure way to catch malware. If you are not able to avoid these websites, make sure your system is thoroughly protected. If you need help evaluating links for their safety, you can use a browser plugin called Web of Trust (WOT).

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Also check out this article: 3 Best Resources To Find Sites That Are Known To Have Spyware & Viruses

2. Turn Off HTML In Emails

A common way how malware is distributed is through email. In fact, malicious emails can contract malware by automatically running scripts when you open an email in HTML view. That’s why most email clients and webmail clients per default do not display HTML content (such as pictures). Leave it that way and only allow trusted sources to automatically display HTML content.

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3. Do Not Open Unsolicited Email Attachments

Do not open attachments unless you trust the source or without scanning them. Most webmail clients will scan attachments before allowing you to open them. Also most desktop email clients provide malware scanning to protect you from malicious attachments. Never skip this step!

avoid malware

For more details about the danger of malware spreaded through email, check out this article: 3 Top Ways People Get Infected by An Email Virus [In Case You Were Wondering].

4. Understand How Scams & Phishing Attacks Work

Scams and phishing attacks can hide behind Facebook notifications or an email from your bank. Only that Facebook or your bank never actually sent these emails, they are fake. When you follow the link and enter requested details, the scammers successfully ‘phished’ your password or personal information.

Of course Facebook does sent out legitimate notifications and your bank may contact your through email, too. So when in doubt, always double-check where those links really take you to. Hover over the link in your email and check the underlying URL or (if need be) check for the URL in your browser URL bar.

Also check out this article: Top 5 Internet Fraud & Scams Of All Time.

5. Do Not Be Intimidated Or Fooled By Scare Tactics

They come in all forms and shapes. I will give you some examples below, but generally let me say that you should never install anti-virus or anti-spyware or anti-malware software from untrusted sources! If you are unsure what to get, you can consult the MakeUseOf Best Of Windows or Linux Software pages.

My personal recommendation for Windows users is this malware protection software combination:

So how do scammers scare people? Usually, when you visit a website, a pop up warns you that your computer virus definitions are outdated or that your computer is infected and that you should install a tool to scan your computer and remove the malware. Don’t let such warnings scare you, they are fake! Lately, scammers also started calling people at their home to tell them that their computer is infected, asking them to turn on their computer, visit a website, and install a software to fix the issue. If this happens to you, simply hang up, it’s fake, too.

6. Scan External Drives You Connect To Your Computer

If you connect an external drive, for example a USB stick from a friend to your computer, be sure to let your anti-virus software scan it. Your friend may not know that they are contracting malware. If you have anti-malware or anti-virus software installed on your computer, you can typically scan the drive by going to > (My) Computer, then right-click on the external drive and select the respective option from the right-click menu, for example > Scan selected files with AntiVir.

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7. Pay Attention When Installing Software

Often, a software installer includes optional installs, such as a toolbar or additional programs. Be very careful what you agree to install. Always opt for the custom installation and deselect anything that is not familiar, especially optional software that you never wanted to download and install in the first place. It goes without saying that you should not install software that you don’t trust.

Do you feel like you do need some additional malware protection after all? Check out the following posts:

Other than not going online, what tips and tricks did I forget? How do you protect your computer and your data from infections?

Image credits: Eliro, kveselyte

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Comments (17)
  • Patrick Bright

    Very thorough and well thought out article.  I believe that readers of this article may find many other useful information concerning data security here,   http://www.brightsecurityideas.com.  

  • WebVisible

    This post is very well written and easily understandable also,,,well thanks a lot for the very useful 7 common sense tips to help avoiding catching malware…

  • DeadlyDad

    8. Before downloading that file, use VTZilla/VTChromizer/VTExplorer to scan both it and the site itself.
    9. Before installing that anti-malware program, make sure that it isn’t malware.  There are good selections at ninite.com and CNet.

  • Xoandre Moats

    #5. You mention again Microsoft Security Essentials. As I have said before, that download is worthless, does nothing but scan your computer and suggest THIRD PARTY DOWNLOADS to fix the problems.

    MSE Cannot and will not fix any problems on your computer. I have tried it on my computer and my wife’s computer. Both times, it will scan the computer and show a listing of up to 20 different programs by OTHER COMPANIES! This list ALWAYS includes several MALWARE programs as well.

    • Aibek

      Xoandre,

      I suspect you might be using a fake MSE, a malware. I have been using
      MSE for years and it’s now my primary security tool. Not only it can
      detect butalso remove the malware. Very effective too.

      Please refer to this thread,
      http://www.sevenforums.com/system-security/107539-dont-fooled-fake-mse.html

    • JoeyDee

      IIRC, the MSE “scanner” suggests about 20 or so AntiVirus solutions (including MSE) on those computers it detects that DO NOT have a resident (real time) AntiVirus installed. Apparently you do not have (or MSE is UNABLE to detect) an AV on yours & your wife’s machine.

      MSE is a fine AV, especially for those who prefer a “set it and forget it” type AV. Personally, I don’t like MSE because users cannot turn off auto-updates (I prefer manually updating) plus it creates too many restore points (also cannot turn this function off).

      I prefer and use Avast free for all my machines.

    • Tina

      Xoandre,

      I have never seen the behavior you describe for MSE. So as Aibek suggests, I think you may have fallen prey to a fake software download, disguising as MSE.

  • crowd SPRING

    Catching malware is easy, but generally it can also be avoided easily. All it takes is a little common sense….7 nice tips to avoid it are very well explained in your post! its really helpful..

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.