I've been the go-to tech guy for family and friends for as long as I can remember. I can't tell you how many times I've had someone come up to me asking, “My computer is SO slow. Can you fix it?” 99% percent of the time, this involves removing malware or virus infections. You're all very familiar with these: browser hijacking, tons of popups, and a computer running as slow as molasses.
What's funny about all of this is that more often than not, all of these systems are running anti-virus software, or at least some form of protection. McAfee, Symantec, or something similar. After swearing under my breath about all of the pebcak errors, I often get the question, “Well, then, what do you use?"
That's right. Nothing. After staring at me for a moment in disbelief, they ask again, “Really? Nothing? And you've never had any problems?” This has been my set of security tools for years, and I've never once had a root kit, popups, virus, or browser hijacking on any kind.
Now, I am in no way saying that I'm against the use of third-party security programs. Nor am I saying that I don't approve of taking security measures to protect your personal data and equipment. In fact, I almost always recommend AVG Free to users looking for a good, free solution. But why, then, do I not listen to my own advice? I absolutely refuse to pay for something that cripples my system's performance (although, I will admit that both of these aspects have improved dramatically over the years).
From fixing (probably thousands of different) computers, and watching how people use their machines, there seems to be a common theme to all of them. People are allowing this to happen to themselves, albeit unknowingly. As I watch over people's shoulders at where they surf, I often cringe at what they click on (or don't click on). And this isn't necessarily their fault. They just haven't been trained yet as to what is or isn't safe to click on.
The two main culprits are unsafe links, or spyware-included downloads. These can come from a phishing e-mail, or be installed alongside a piece of software that you were actually intending to install of your computer.
I get it, though. When you visit a page that looks like this one, how are you supposed to know which “download” button is actually the correct one?
The best bit of advice I can give to you is “look before you click.” When hovering over a button, you can look in the bottom corner of your web browser, and most (darn you, safari!) will give you a preview of where that URL will take you before you actually click on it. If that url is going to take you somewhere other than you intended, it's very obviously not the correct link.
Another piece of advice is that most download links are not giant flashy wiggling buttons that say, “Download.” Usually, they are just a simple blue hyperlink. This isn't always the case, but something good to keep in mind.
And for heaven's sake, please please PLEASE stop downloading movies and music from random websites. Not only is it illegal, but it's a surefire way to get viruses and malware. Music and movies are not inherently evil, but only if they are purchased and downloaded through a trusted third-party application (iTunes, Google, etc.)
Another piece of advice: When installing an application, be sure to actually READ what you're agreeing to. Just clicking “next, next, next” is doing a lot more hurt than good. Below are a few screenshots of the uTorrent installation. If I hadn't unchecked, or declined all three of those ‘offers', I would have just crippled my machine in a matter of seconds.
So what should you do?
I'm not recommending that everyone ditch all of the security principles that they've learned over the course of their life. I'm simply saying what I do, and what I've found in order to keep my machine clean. Starting in Windows 7, Microsoft offered many more security features than ever before with Windows Defender, improved Firewall, and since Vista, tools such as the User Account Control. All of these pieces are great additions, and for many people, these may be sufficient.
One last piece of advice: I absolutely swear by Malware Bytes. I do Tech Support at work, and I use this application multiple times a day without a hitch. It's great at finding and removing malware infections. Use it.
So now, what do all my readers think? Am I a nit-wit for recommending this? What have you found in your personal experience?