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Keeping your computer clean isn’t just smart: it’s your civic duty. Here’s why.

If your computer is malware-ridden, it’s not just slowing you down. It could infect machines used by your friends and family, putting them at risk. It’s even possible your computer is being used by hackers to wage attacks on others, all without your knowledge.

We often talk about computer security in personal terms. Defend yourself from computer crimes Top Five Computer Crimes & How to Protect Yourself From Them Top Five Computer Crimes & How to Protect Yourself From Them Read More , we say, appealing to your sense of self-interest. But keeping your computer clean isn’t just about your security. In an interconnected world, your security affects everyone else’s – and particularly that of the people you’re close to.

Here are ways an infected computer can affect the people around you, the company you work for and even the world.

You Could Be Infecting Your Friends, Family And Co-Workers

No one wants to be the guy who gets everyone else sick.

infect-friends-malware

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You probably know the common sense ways to avoid catching malware 7 Common Sense Tips to Help You Avoid Catching Malware 7 Common Sense Tips to Help You Avoid Catching Malware The 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... Read More – things like not downloading software from sites you don’t trust, and scanning email attachments before you open them. But did you know some malware can spread infections via a USB drive? Or a WiFi network?

This means, if your computer isn’t clean, you could be putting others at risk. Every time you use a flash drive to share a file, you might be spreading malware. Every time you ask a friend for their WiFi password, you might be sharing malware.

Sure, there are steps your friends could take to use a jump drive securely 5 Tips On How To Use A Jump Drive Without Corrupting Your Data 5 Tips On How To Use A Jump Drive Without Corrupting Your Data A jump drive, also known as a flash drive, thumb drive, memory stick, or simply USB drive, is a tiny but powerful storage device. Flash drives are cheap, small, come with sufficient storage for big... Read More , and there are firewalls your friends could set up to stop your computer from infecting theirs over WiFi. But if you keep your computer clean, they won’t have anything to worry about.

You Could Be Part Of A Botnet

If you don’t keep your computer secure, it could turn into a zombie computer. This means that, without your knowledge, your computer could be hard at work doing a hacker’s bidding.

A network of zombie computers is called a botnet, and they do all sorts of nasty things for people who mean ill. Best case scenario, your computer is making someone else rich by mining BitCoins What Is Bitcoin: The MakeUseOf BitCoin Guide What Is Bitcoin: The MakeUseOf BitCoin Guide Whether you just want to find out more about BitCoin or to actually use the currency, you'll want to check out "Virtual Currency: The BitCoin Guide", the latest manual from author Lachlan Roy. Read More  without your knowledge. Worst case, your computer is being used to send out spam emails, or launch DDoS attacks What Is a DDoS Attack? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is a DDoS Attack? [MakeUseOf Explains] The term DDoS whistles past whenever cyber-activism rears up its head en-masse. These kind of attacks make international headlines because of multiple reasons. The issues that jumpstart those DDoS attacks are often controversial or highly... Read More .

Put simply: the people who make malware aren’t just doing so to have fun. Some of them want to use your computer for their own purposes, meaning your negligence is helping someone else make the Internet a worse place. Keeping your computer clean is the best way to prevent this.

Concerned that your PC might be a zombie? Check our guide to zombie computers Is Your PC A Zombie? And What's a Zombie Computer, Anyway? [MakeUseOf Explains] Is Your PC A Zombie? And What's a Zombie Computer, Anyway? [MakeUseOf Explains] Have you ever wondered where all of the Internet spam comes from? You probably receive hundreds of spam-filtered junk emails every day. Does that mean there are hundreds and thousands of people out there, sitting... Read More to make sure you’re secure.

You Could Be Embarrassing Yourself – And Your Friends

This is a little bit of self interest, sure, but stay with me. Infecting someone else’s computer not only puts them at risk: it’s also potentially embarrassing. If your friends, family or co-workers find out they got infected because of your negligence, it isn’t going to reflect well on you.

This is particularly true if you got that malware while browsing xHamster How To Remove The Bedep Malware From XHamster How To Remove The Bedep Malware From XHamster Adult site xHamster has been spreading a huge amount of malware, with a 1500% increase in infections over a two day period in January 2015. Is your computer infected? And how can you stay safe? Read More , but even if the infection isn’t porn-related you’ll still have egg on your face. And that could have serious repercussions.

For example: if a piece of malware infects your email software, and sends a spam message to everyone in your address book, that could make you look stupid in front of everyone you know. If you’re looking for a job right now, this could seriously hurt your chances of getting the position.

Even worse: if your negligence ends up infecting a friend’s computer, you might be responsible for them not getting a job.

This is why it’s important to keep your computer clean: it can save you, and the people you care about, a lot of embarrassment.

Keep Your Computer Clean! It’s The Right Thing To Do

You don’t skip washing your hands; don’t skip keeping your computer clean, either.

computer-security-wash-hands

Your security choices don’t just affect you. We’re all in this together, and what you do affects other people.

Our advice: replace Microsoft Security Essentials Why You Should Replace Microsoft Security Essentials With A Proper Antivirus Why You Should Replace Microsoft Security Essentials With A Proper Antivirus Read More with something better. Avast is a solid, free choice Stay Protected From Every Type Of Malware With Avast Free Antivirus Stay Protected From Every Type Of Malware With Avast Free Antivirus Comprehensive malware protection doesn't need to cost a fortune. Many reputable free antivirus programs are equally effective as paid ones, and avast! Free Antivirus stands with the best Windows antivirus programs. Read More if you’re not sure what to use.

Mac users, don’t go thinking you’re off the hook: your Mac could have a virus too I Think My Mac Has A Virus! 3 Ways You Can Tell I Think My Mac Has A Virus! 3 Ways You Can Tell Is your Mac acting kind of... weird? Whether you're seeing adverts you can't explain, or your system is unreasonably slow, you might think the problem is malware. But you're probably wrong. Read More . Make sure you have some way to scan for malware – Sophos for Mac is a well-reviewed free option.

If you find out that you are infected, take the steps required to clean everything up 10 Steps To Take When You Discover Malware On Your Computer 10 Steps To Take When You Discover Malware On Your Computer We would like to think that the Internet is a safe place to spend our time (cough), but we all know there are risks around every corner. Email, social media, malicious websites that have worked... Read More . It’s the right thing to do.

How do you keep your computer clean? Are there other ways a malware-ridden computer can negatively affect the world? Let’s talk about all this and more in the comments below.

  1. A41202813GMAIL
    February 26, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    If You Are Using CHROME Or OPERA15+, Changing The Settings For Plugins To Only Play When Clicked On, It Helps, Too.

    Cheers.

    • Justin Pot
      February 26, 2015 at 2:38 pm

      Good idea!

    • A41202813GMAIL
      February 28, 2015 at 6:14 am

      @Justin Pot

      Thank You.

  2. KT
    February 25, 2015 at 2:54 am

    Wow, a lot of love for the Linux crowd here today, lol. I guess I'm that one and only guy that likes increasingly disturbing and bizarre "adult" themed sites and finding good deals on "questionably legal" products. For those, I choose Linux with firefox and ad blockers/ghostery/etc. Or even Tor if the combination of beer, boredom, and curiosity get the best of me. I still use Windows for online gaming, but with all the e-prophylactics I have on it, it surfs the web with the speed and efficiency of a pregnant tortoise. If I contributed to the billion dollar industry of keeping Windows safe, I could probably surf almost as fast as my other os, but I like free. ;)

    Great article though, nothing like getting spam bombed from a family member's hijacked pc because they were click happy on facebook ads.

    • Justin Pot
      February 25, 2015 at 3:58 pm

      I sincerely do love Linux! I just thinking telling people to switch operating systems to solve their security problems is a little...unhelpful.

      As for your online activities: stay safe out there. It's a dark, terrifying web of the mind.

    • dragonmouth
      February 27, 2015 at 1:44 am

      "telling people to switch operating systems to solve their security problems is a little…unhelpful."
      Would you consider telling a person in a leaky boat to switch to a boat with less or no leaks to be "unhelpful"?

    • Justin Pot
      February 27, 2015 at 3:55 am

      Oh Dragonmouth, I'd engage but I'm just so busy laughing. You're adorable. Never change.

  3. Hildegerd
    February 24, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    What about MACs?

    • Justin Pot
      February 25, 2015 at 3:56 pm

      The same basic advice applies: keep everything up to date, avoid scummy sites. Malware is unlikely, but possible: I linked to a decent antivirus app above.

    • likefunbutnot
      February 25, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      I support a number of OSX users. They probably cause more headaches for me than the Windows computers, most often because of their lax attitude with regard to security.

      OSX can and is still impacted by Javascript-based vulnerabilities, even if Windows binaries are not problematic. Those sorts of attacks most often make use of available authenticated sessions on popular web sites to distribute fraudulent messages (an "XSS" or cross-site scripting attack), but the potential exists for substantially greater mayhem.

      I've also found OSX machines with hostile browser add-ons and advertising hijacking applications (in the world of Windows, both would be classed as "Potentially Unwanted Programs" rather than outright malware). They were trivially easy to remove, but in each case that I have encountered an issue, the user was absolutely incredulous that such a thing could happen at all. End users are seldom aware of such things as browser add-ons in the first place.

      Finally, because OSX users are often so incautious about what they download and run, it's incredibly common to find OSX machines that have Windows malware, trojans and viruses. They're inert to the OSX machine, but an asymptomatic carrier is still infected.

    • Hildegerd
      February 25, 2015 at 8:17 pm

      I am on it guys, believe me. ;)

    • Justin Pot
      February 25, 2015 at 10:21 pm

      I'm glad! Keep informed and stay safe.

  4. likefunbutnot
    February 24, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    Wanna know what really, really helps prevent malware infections?

    Ad blocking.

    I know no one who runs a web site that uses ads want to hear it, but it's probably the single best general-purpose tool for stopping internet herpes in its tracks. Ads are, without a doubt, the biggest vector for infections.

    For the web sites themselves, unless they manually approve and host the ads they run rather than rely on an advertising network to broker content and payment and communicate that they do so, it's simply irresponsible for end users to whitelist or disable their ad blocking. If the ads are being brokered by a third party, they're still potentially unsafe.

    Using something like ninite.com or chocolatey.org to keep browsers and helper applications up to date, removing well-known vectors like Java and Acrobat Reader entirely from your computer and keeping effect tools like Avast, Malwarebytes and Spybot Search and Destroy (particularly for its immunization functions) on hand will certainly also help, but not as much as simply removing the most problematic vector for infection.

    • rusty
      February 24, 2015 at 8:26 pm

      Agreed, less then a few days ago Mathew Hughes wrote about how adblock should die
      Interesting at the least. My thoughts were always with security and having adblocking.
      In fact ,I will say it,anyone person or company that made money from intrusive adds should perish. Why do we need it?
      Interesting article.

    • Justin Pot
      February 24, 2015 at 8:36 pm

      If I could think of a way to make a living writing stuff without ads, I'd do it. For what it's worth we do everything in our power to keep malware off this site, and I've rarely heard of malware being a problem with ads outside of piracy sites, but to each their own. Out of curiosity: is there anything we could do to let you support us, that you'd go along with? Sincerely curious.

    • likefunbutnot
      February 24, 2015 at 11:03 pm

      @Justin Pot,
      Malware happens on mainstream sites with some regularity. I've seen machines get owned by something as simple as using a badly outdated version of Flash on cnn.com and I know sites like fark.com have issues several times a year, no matter how attentive its admins are. The story of online advertising involves probably four or five almost entirely anonymous parties between the original product being advertised and the graphics and scripts that wind up on a web site (briefly: Product owner, ad agency, marketing group, digital artists, script developers, ad broker, destination web sites). Given the number of times malicious scripts delivered via advertisements, I see no reason to trust anyone in that chain.

      I don't feel that web users in general owe web sites (or writers) an income. There's no law or rule that says people who watch TV or listen to the radio have to purchase the products advertised there, or even that those users have to sit through commercial messages in the first place. Content writers can say that they're not getting paid enough for their work when they depend on ads and that may be true, but If that's the case, I think they should probably find a different revenue source or maybe even a different career.

      I believe that in most cases, content will continue to exist on the web. It'll be posted in forums or blogs that operate as labors of love or hosted on sites owned by conglomerates that have alternative revenue streams.

      As for an alternative revenue option, I'd suggest an appeal for direct patronage. The NPR/PBS model. An online tip jar. "This web site is funded by generous users like..."
      Honestly, if I gave MUO $20 a year, that's probably 100 times the amount my theoretical ad impressions would be worth. Participation might be low as MUO doesn't have much of an on-site community (I can only name about a dozen frequent commenters though I can see that many hundreds show up for the giveaways), but maybe that will give the site a reason to actually build a community.

    • Bruce E
      February 25, 2015 at 1:39 am

      @Justin: Since the vectorss are the ad networks themselves, it is not isolated to piracy sites.

      June 2013 - RollingStone.com: https://barracudalabs.com/2013/06/rollingstone-com-spreads-zeroaccess-malware-via-ad-network/
      Aug 2013 - Mobile isn't safe either - http://researchcenter.paloaltonetworks.com/2013/08/mobile-devices-new-malware-and-new-vectors/
      Sept 2014 - The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post & last.fm - https://blog.malwarebytes.org/malvertising-2/2014/09/malvertising-hits-the-times-of-israel-newspaper/
      Oct 2014 - Yahoo & Match.com (can't find link right now but analysis was by Proofpoint)
      Nov 2014 - Research finds 1% of online ads are malicious - http://www.securityweek.com/research-finds-1-percent-online-ads-malicious
      Jan 2015 - Ransomware distributed via ads on Huffington Post - http://www.scmagazine.com/ransomware-is-being-distributed-on-huffpo-site/article/391235/

      My security software has stopped malware from being delivered from TechRepublic, PCMag, PC World, and the NY Times. All of them were within the last 2 years and traced back to ads being served on the site.

  5. Sam
    February 24, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    Haha nice response above :-D Yeah I know you're a Linux guy so half expected some mention of that in the article. Glad I was wrong!

    I'd certainly admit that there are people who are so uneducated in safe internet usage that they'd be better off with Linux, but of course those are the people who will have the hardest time adapting to something different (even if many of the interfaces are very similar).

    To add to the antivirus advice, uploading a file you're suspicious of to virustotal.com is a great way to get a second (and 52nd) opinion on a file. Some software will throw up false positives, while of course plenty of software will miss things, so it's nice to get a range of results.

    • Justin Pot
      February 24, 2015 at 7:24 pm

      Regardless of platform, the single biggest security risk is the person behind the keyboard. Knowledge is the most important line of defense. Thanks for the advice here, Sam.

  6. Sam
    February 24, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    I'm glad none of the advice was "replace Windows with Linux". Maybe the author knew that one would be immediately covered by the usual Linux fanatics :-)

    • Justin Pot
      February 24, 2015 at 5:10 pm

      People who do that make me, as a Linux user, embarrassed. There's only one proper way to respond to them.

  7. dragonmouth
    February 24, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    "Our advice: replace Microsoft Security Essentials with something better."
    Why not start by replacing Windows with a more secure O/S, line BSD or Linux.

    • Justin Pot
      February 24, 2015 at 5:08 pm

      GOOD ONE LOL ur so smart

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