Computer Security 101: How To Avoid Getting A Computer Virus Or Having Your Personal Info Stolen

by Lynnette

antivirus, , online security and safety, z1

Following is some helpful information about why people get computer viruses and how a computer gets hacked.

Pay close attention.

There’s a must-do step with each one — something that you need to do right now to prevent having your own computer, passwords, and email address compromised!


These questions (and answers) will help you avoid computer virus malware on your computer — and keep your system safe from future attacks.

How Did Your Computer Get A Virus?

The 2 ways that you can get a virus or get your computer or email hacked:

  1. By accidentally and innocently clicking on a bad link or a bad dialog box — like I did once. (Tip: The only thing that’s safe to click in a pop-up box is “leave this page” — or the X in the upper right corner of the box.)
  2. By leaving doors open that point to your computer and give strangers access. (Tip: The doors are actually ‘ports’ or access points that remain unblocked so anyone who knows how to tap into others’ computers can tap into yours.)


What Do Hackers Do With Your Info?

They usually do at least one of these things:

  • Install malware onto your computer. This gives the hacker remote access to your computer.
  • Install a virus. – This shares your computer information with the hackers and with others.
  • Take over your computer in some way. If a hacker gets in through an open doorway, they have remote access to your computer to use in any way they want (copying your keystrokes, passwords, and bank account numbers), obtaining your email database which gives them access to all of your friends’ email addresses, using your computer to remotely send out massive amounts of spam email, accessing other programs you use online (cloud storage, bank accounts, social networking, etc.), using your computer to redistribute viruses or malware in other emails or on other computers



How Do You Ensure Computer Security?

Here’s how to protect yourself from malware, a computer virus, or having your computer taken over and/or having your personal information stolen:

#1 – Use a secure password.

The primary reason that personal information and personal accounts get exposed is due to an insecure password. That’s right, if you choose a bad password (one that’s not too difficult to crack or you use the same password for most of the sites you visit), then you’re making it easy for computer hackers.

So, instead of just a single word — which is super easy for password hackers to crack, you should use a PHRASE that is long and includes some numbers or symbols.

Using a Password Manager can alleviate all of the headache that’s usually associated with:

  • Coming up with secure passwords.
  • Using a different creative/unique password for every site you log into.
  • Remembering all of your passwords.

Password managers like LastPass (my personal favorite) remembers everything for you. Then you just need to remember that one single password for LastPass.

That’s it! It’s such a time-saver and a headache reliever. Jim and I have been using LastPass for years now. 1Password is another good one.

Here a few tips to remember when setting your password:

  • Don’t use the same password on popular sites.
  • If a hacker or phisher manages to gain access to your password, all they have to do is try that same password on a list of popular sites.
  • Since many people use the same password (for their own convenience), the odds are in the hacker’s favor.

Think online banking sites, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc etc. Google says that using 1 single password is the way of the future.

Here’s a free online tool to test each of your passwords: How Secure Is My Password?


#2 – Regularly update all of the programs you use.

Some of the most common programs that require regular updates are:

  • Antivirus software (AVG, Avast, Norton, McAfee)
  • Browser (Internet Explorer – IE, Firefox, Chrome)
  • Operating system (Windows, Mac)
  • And other programs that regularly run on your computer

TIP: Yes, it’s okay to approve those pop-up boxes asking if you want to update Windows, Adobe, and Java. )

Keeping all of those programs updated will close the security holes that tend to open up over time whenever hackers figure out new ways to gain access to others’ computers.

Now, a quick word about official looking “update” notices and pop-up boxes that are actually fake…

I’ve seen computer dialogue boxes that look official, but they’re not!

  • They may try to mimic one that you usually see — like when your antivirus program pops-up and informs you that it’s time to update it.
  • They may even try to look like the official Windows Update reminder box
  • that you’re so used to seeing — because Microsoft updates occur so frequently.

Microsoft typically releases important updates on the second or fourth Tuesday of the month. However, updates could be released at any time. Source

When you see any dialog boxes randomly pop up on your computer, it’s best to NOT click — because clicking on a fake dialogue box usually ‘gives them permission’ to take over your computer, or install something on your computer, without you even realizing it.

Instead, see what it says in the pop-up box, then go to your own program for that function — whether it be your own antivirus program or the official settings for Windows Update — and see if that program is legitimately notifying you that it’s time to update or something.

If not, then what you saw may have been a rogue dialogue box that was set to run on a completely legitimate (or semi-legitimate) site on the Internet. (Yep, it happens to even the best websites sometimes.)

Your best bet is not to even let your mouse go near those random dialogue boxes — because it’s too easy to accidentally click on the wrong thing.

Try this instead:

  • Hit the ESCAPE key on your keyboard, or the BACK button in your browser if possible.
  • If those 2 options don’t work, close the entire TAB in your browser or close the browser altogether.
  • Then, when reopening your browser, don’t click to “restore windows & tabs that were open.”
  • Finally, start over from scratch by opening a new browser window.

Trust me, if the dialogue box looked unusual in any way, then it will be worth it to lose whatever you may have been working on in your browser tab up to that point.

TIP: This is yet another good reason to constantly SAVE YOUR WORK whenever you’re writing/working online!

Rogue dialogue boxes often try to scare you into clicking by stating that an important update is necessary — for Adobe, Windows, or your virus program, to name a few. Don’t ever be swayed by a pop-up box that appears on your computer.

Instead, go directly to your computer’s security settings or your computer’s virus settings and see if they indicate that there’s a problem. If not, then the pop-up box you saw was simply a trick to get to click on their fake warning (which would have led to malware, a virus, etc).

Here’s how to tell if a popup message is fake or not.


#3 – Turn on your computer’s firewall and ensure that your wireless router is secure.

Having the firewall turned on is not enough though. It must be configured properly.

Here’s how to configure Windows firewall on your computer.

If you’ve got wifi in your house, then you’ve probably got a wireless router, which has its own security measures that must be followed. You can search online for the manual and configuration instructions.

Here’s the difference between hardware and software firewalls… and info to determine if  you really need both.


#4 – Always keep your guard up whenever you’re online.

I’m sure you’ve heard the warning — “don’t click on anything in an email from someone you don’t know.” But you shouldn’t click on anything in an email from someone you do know either.

TIP #1: Unless you’ve corresponded with them prior to receiving that link, and you know the link is coming and what will be in it, DO NOT CLICK!

One of the biggest things we tend to overlook is the fact that emails with bad links in them can come from someone you trust if their computer or email account has been hacked! That’s why it pays to have ‘safe friends’.

If you have a friend who is constantly sending out emails, “I’ve been hacked again” you may want to rethink that digital relationship. People who don’t use safe computing practices compromise their own email addresses (and the email addresses of everyone in their contact list!) by clicking, forwarding, and responding to unsafe things — without even realizing it.

Don’t feel bad for not opening a link from someone you know. You’ll feel much worse if you click and then your email (or your computer) gets hijacked!

If the person really intended for you to see that link and they’re wondering if you’ve received it or not, they will contact you privately on their own. I don’t ever open links in emails — even from people I know, including my mom. I just immediately delete them. If it was important and they want to know if I got it, they’ll contact me.

And don’t even get me started on forwarded emails! Ugh. The bottom line: whether you actually send a lot of forwarded emails or not, even if you receive a lot of forwarded emails then you’re in “those circles” and your email address (and/or your computer) is more likely to become compromised.

You are 36 times more likely to get scammed if anyone in your contacts has been hacked, according to a study by Google ~CNN

Tip #2: If you’re asked for your email, remember you don’t have to give it to everyone! If it’s a new friend that you don’t know well yet, consider giving that person your “other” email address.

I have 2 email addresses that I use regularly:

  1. One is a safely-guarded email address that I only give out to my closest friends and family members (…only those who take email & online security seriously).
  2. The other is a secondary email address that I only check occasionally. I could care less if it got hacked and I couldn’t access what was there ever again. If I’m uncertain about a program I’m signing up for online, or a friend I don’t know well yet, this is the email address I use. If someone requests your email, but you know that you don’t want them contacting you again, then use a disposable email address!

TIP #3: You can’t just train yourself to watch for links that ‘look suspicious’ because many bad links don’t look suspicious at all! It’s called phishing. That’s where hackers trick you into revealing sensitive information by making you sign into a fake account login page. The email you receive looks official, and it alerts you to something about an account that you actually do own, but it’s a set-up. It’s a FAKE. Here’s what a phishing email looks like.

To protect yourself, simply don’t access websites from links inside emails. Instead, go to the actual site yourself and login yourself — privately. Always go directly to the source instead — on your own — rather than letting any email or program give you a shortcut there.

The bottom line: just don’t click on links in email. Period.

Phishing has come a long way from the old days when simply keeping an eye out for dodgy grammar and sloppy spelling was enough. Education techniques clearly need to evolve to keep pace with the growing sophistication of phishing scams. A major difficulty is the tendency to focus on specifics; any list of tell-tale signs is likely to date quickly, as techniques evolve and old mistakes are learnt from. The main thing is to maintain a skeptical disposition. Source

TIP #4: Think before you use Facebook apps. So many of my Facebook friends have had their accounts hacked. I finally figured out how it was happening.

Apps can be built to look like fun games or services that would benefit you when, in fact, their sole purpose (or secondary purpose) is to steal your info.

While they may be serving you the game or service that they promised, after you’ve downloaded their app they’re also looking at your password, email address, and other sensitive data.

Sometimes you can see ahead of time which data an app developer will have access to (before you approve the download), but sometimes it’s not so clear.

Also, stay away from all of those fun surveys & apps that reveal “what your eye color says about you”… “who looks at your facebook profile the most”… ”  you get the idea. Those are Facebook survey scams.

Here’s how to stay safe online.

More Computer Security Tips

In addition to all of the links above, following are some great resources to ensure that your computer remains free of malware and viruses.