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Computing Responsibly (Part 3)

In Part 1 and Part 2, we discussed some preventative measures you can take in order to lower your risks while working on your computer. The assumption is that you do the things most folks do these days with their computers. You visit websites, send and receive emails, download things, laugh at kittens … those funny, funny kittens.

So what steps can you take while actually doing these sorts of things? The first rule is simple. Trust no one. If that sounds a bit paranoid, it isn’t. Not really. I don’t mean to say that you can’t browse anywhere or read your emails. That defeats the point of being able to actually use your computer. What I mean is that you should always be aware of what you are doing and be open to the prospect that someone is attempting to dupe you.

The preventative measures are there to avoid direct security breaches, things that would try to use a weak point in your computer. Trust is how an attacker tries to breach your personal security. A website might try to gain your trust by looking as though it has found malware on your machine and offering to remove it for you. Someone might send you a seemingly official looking email saying you need to send them some sort of personal information. Or worse, they may try to impersonate someone you know.

In each case, your best defense is awareness. It’s been said that in training to fight counterfeiting, Secret Service agents don’t spend their time looking at counterfeits. Sure, some examination is necessary, but the majority of their time is said to be spent examining the real thing. Why? Because then anything else will just look wrong. Likewise, you should be familiar with your computer. You should know what you have installed so that when you see a message pop up you know whether it belongs to an application you know is there and should be running or if it is instead a popup window from the website you just hit that is just dolled up to look like something running on your machine. You should be familiar enough with the writing habits of your email contacts to know how they communicate, what sort of grammar they use, how their spelling is, etc.

Probably one of the simplest litmus tests of legitimacy, though, is spelling. The vast majority of malware that uses any sort of popup contains a plethora of typos and poor grammar choices. While I’m sure there are many weepy English teachers as a result, it can be helpful in separating the wheat from the chaff.

Unfortunately, even if you do all the right things, you might still end up infected. No defense is perfect. If your computer begins to behave oddly, which still comes down to awareness, you should immediately try to run whatever scans you can to see if there is an infection present. It’s possible though that even with the anti-malware applications installed and up to date, and having run scans, that you may be infected and it may not be detected. If your computer is still behaving strangely at this point… you should now consider more advanced help. If you have a friend or relative who is knowledgeable about such things and is willing to help, give them a call. If not, give a professional a call. And if you’re in Houston, give us a call. But keep in mind, if you follow the suggestions we’ve laid out here, your odds of needing outside assistance will be lowered dramatically.

So you’ve seen that lowering your own privileges and keeping your anti-malware applications up to date can help prevent infection. And you’ve found that keeping your system clear of unnecessary applications and keeping the rest up to date is also a big help. Finally, you know that the best defense against attackers is remaining aware, of your computer and the habits of those who you communicate with, in order to spot potential differences. With these simple tools in hand, you’ll be at much lower risk and have a better, safer experience online. Happy computing!

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