How to Protect your Computer Against Viruses

(A Work in Progress)

Your average person on the street understands the term ‘virus’ and know that it’s a thing they don’t want on their computers. So, when I say ‘virus’, I’m talking about all sorts of malware that can muck about with your computer and make it do things it shouldn’t do (worms, hijacks, backdoors, etc). Specifically, things that compromise the security or integrity of your data (documents, images, programs, music files, etc.) or the security of the English Faculty network or the CUDN at large.

I have taken every precaution available to me at the moment to secure your faculty computers, but that doesn’t guarantee that they can’t be infected by some sort of malware or that your home or college computers can’t be infected and that infection transferred by some sort of removable media (CD/DVD, USB stick, portable hard drive, etc.). So here are some things you can do to protect your computers from infection by viruses and other types of malware.

Never set up an account on your computer that has a blank password and always make your main account a ‘ least privileged’ or non-administrative user.

  • By default, Windows and Mac OS will make the first account created a privileged account, so you will need to change this manually. Admin accounts don’t always get asked if they want to install new software when a web site’s been hacked. This is important because many viruses can be installed by hacked web sites – even if you’ve visited the site before with no problems – and you may never know what’s happened until it’s too late.

Always install a virus scanner on your computer and keep it up to date.

  • The University has a site license for McAfee VirusScan Enterprise. This is installed on your Faculty PC. You are also allowed to install a copy on your home computer, and I strongly recommend that you do so. For Macs, if you’d prefer not to run McAfee, I recommend a piece of software called ‘ClamXAV‘. It’s free and seems to do a fair job. For PCs, if you prefer not to run McAfee, I like both AVG and Avast‘s free versions.

Always install Microsoft and Apple updates when they become available.

  • Set updates to run at least once a week in the AutoUpdates/Software Updates control panel or in settings. Apple now has an auto-update option, as well. Please, please, please ALWAYS install your updates. You never know what sort sorts of vulnerabilities you might be open to. There are very rare occasions when an update will break something on your computer, but if that happens – let me know. I might be able to help.

Never open attachments that you aren’t expecting – even from people you know!

  • As a corollary, never click on any links unless you know exactly what they’re for. See How to Detect Emil Scams for more information.
  • Some viruses work by scanning the hard drive of an infected PC for email addresses. Depending on how they work, they may use settings in Outlook or other email programs to send themselves without your knowledge. This action is blocked on your Faculty PC, but won’t be blocked by default on your home PC.

Do think about using another browser apart from Safari, Internet Explorer or Edge, if you can.

  • If you can’t use another browser, please – as above – always make sure you have security updates installed.
  • Or, use something like Chrome, Firefox or Opera (all are available for Mac and PC). They all have their good and bad points, but are less likely to allow the sorts of mayhem that Internet Explorer does.

Do Upgrade your version of Windows if you are running Windows 7 or Earlier

  • These versions of Windows are now out of long term support and contain many bugs and security holes that will have been fixed in later versions.
  • Also, think about upgrading to Windows 10. Last I heard, Microsoft are considering it an evergreen system (i.e. one that will just continue to be updated rather than a whole new version being brought out). Windows 10 has it’s issues, for sure, but you can mitigate those.

(Updated 26 Oct 2018)