Good anti-virus software is a great way to safeguard against malicious software that would otherwise cause havoc on your system, your data, and your personal life. Unfortunately, finding a good solution that protects against almost all kinds of attacks without weighing down your system and forcing its way into everything you do is nearly impossible. Yes, there are some solid options out there, but this article is about what you can do to avoid viruses without having to rely on anti-virus software or firewalls alone.
As a matter of fact, you should never rely on anti-virus software to keep your system safe. This software is a crutch that can help you, but it is never intended to substitute for common sense and good Internet usage practices. Here are a few tips on how to avoid computer viruses without anti-virus software:
Practice Safe Emailing
Email is a great way to send messages between yourself and others. To a programmer with malicious intent, it can also be a great way to distribute harmful code to a large number of people. In the past, it was easy to send executable files through email that infected people’s systems simply by clicking on them. While some of these files are still in the wild, often wrapped up in compressed files or other data, viruses are sending themselves out in craftier ways.
If a friend of yours has been infected, they might unknowingly send email to everyone on their contacts list with a link and a convincing subject line indicating that they’ve found something interesting on the linked site. Clicking the link sends you to a page that either takes advantage of security flaws in browser or asks you to install special software to “view the content.”
The best rule of thumb is never to open attachments sent through email unless the sender has explicitly contacted you through other means to let you know that the file is on its way. The same rule goes to someone that shares a link.
Keep Your Operating System Updated
Microsoft and Apple both regularly update their operating systems to fix bugs, update features, and counteract discovered security holes. Failing to update your operating system regularly could open it up to any number of possible attacks as hackers continue to discover points of entry into your system.
Microsoft typically performs regular updates during the first Tuesday of any month. In cases where a serious and widespread security problem is apparent, the company may break its regular cycle and push out an update as soon as it’s ready. Keeping your automatic update set on and having it check daily is recommended.
Apple may boast that OS X has no viruses or serious issues to speak of, but the fact of the matter is that its security through anonymity will only go so far. There have been, and continue to be, security flaws discovered in OS X and Apple is typically quick to fix them. Often, these flaws are found in third-party software running on the system. Make sure to allow software updates to take place regularly and don’t deny or delay them when the alert comes up. The few minutes it takes to run the patch and reset the system can save you a much longer hassle down the road.
Don’t Visit Sites You Don’t Trust
This tip is the hardest one to follow, and reasonably so. It’s impossible for you to know all the sites on the Web, and the vast majority of them are actually quite good and helpful. Certain types of sites, however, are more prone to being used as traps to lure unsuspecting users in and install malicious software on their systems. These sites typically include pornography, pirated content or software, and make promises to do things for you that common sense tells you isn’t really medically possible. These sites appear normal at first glance, but during the process of using them you may be asked to install special codecs to view videos or software to download files. The files themselves (even downloaded through torrents) may have malicious software laced throughout otherwise functional code.
The best rule of thumb here is that if you’re not getting your content from official channels (Hulu, Netflix, network sites, etc.), you’re probably not getting something very trustworthy. Your friends and family may even recommend these sites to see the latest blockbuster movie for free, but chances are they are also the ones who will complain to you that their computer is running slow in the future.
Downloading spyware and anti-virus software because a pop-up told you that it detected something on your computer is also a common way to get infected. Only download software like this that is recommended by trustworthy tech sites (like this one). I can’t tell you how many times a call from someone that has a virus started with, “Well, I installed the spyware remover and it found all these bad things.”
Over all, protecting yourself from viruses takes a lot more than just relying on a piece of software or a specific operating system to keep you safe. Your actions are the best way to avoid these problems, by far.