The 5 Steps to Protect Your Computer from Viruses and Hacking

The 5 Steps to Protect Your Computer from Viruses and Hacking

It's your job to make sure you're protecting your computer properly so you make sure you won't lose sensitive files or, worst, become the victim of internet hacking.

Properly protecting your computer in today's world is mandatory if you want to have a smooth digital experience.

If you own a computer, you are definitely using the internet for various purposes from keeping in touch with your friends and family to making online purchases and solving work-related issues.

And, while browsing the internet, there are various cyber threats that could put your computer at risk - from computer viruses to other types of malware that could compromise your files and even getting your personal information stolen.

There are different ways in which viruses and malware can get into your computer, the most common being:

  • Malicious emails - It's a common way for hackers to send fake emails to users disguising malicious links and attachments that will infect the victims' computers upon clicking.
  • Pop-ups - Those annoying pop-ups you see when you're browsing online are often hiding malware and will infect your computer if you click on them.
  • USB Flash drives - Connecting an infected USB flash drive to your device will allow the malware to spread and infect your computer also.
  • Downloadable media - Not all the files you download over the internet are safe, many of them are actually malware disguised as a legitimate application or program.

It's your job to make sure you're protecting your computer properly so you make sure you won't lose sensitive files or, worst, become the victim of internet hacking.

So let's see what are the steps to protect your computer from viruses and hackers.


1. Protecting against malware

In the online world, not few are the threats your computer can come across. To name the most common computer threats:

  • Viruses - They are one of the most common types of malware and they are designed to destroy the data on a computer. Once they manage to get to your computer (through downloading an infected file), they'll start reproducing themselves, infecting as many files as possible.
  • Worms - They are similar to viruses. But, unlike viruses, you don't have to open the infected file in order for the worms to spread through your computer.
  • Trojan horses - Trojans hide behind other programs and they are one of the most dangerous types of malware as they can allow hackers to take control of your computer remotely and steal your private information.
  • Bots - The are software programs that automatically run specific tasks and they are used for DoS attacks. These types of attacks flood the user's computer with requests until the system overloads and crushes.
  • Keyloggers - Keyloggers allow attackers to record everything that's being typed on the keyboard so they can steal usernames, passwords, and credit card data.
  • Adware and spyware - Spyware is a software designed to spy on the user's online behavior. Upon collecting information through spyware, the attackers can further send adware in the form of pop-ups.
  • Ransomware - Ransomware is a common hacking technique where the attacker infects the victim's computer with malware, encrypting all the files. The victim is not able to access the files until a ransom is paid (if the attacker keeps his word).

To protect your computer from viruses and malware, it is mandatory you use antivirus software.

The antivirus software is able to detect and remove various types of malware before you get the chance to open and install malicious files. It scans every file you download from the internet or save from external memories and checks it for malware in its database. If the antivirus software finds that a file is malicious, it will remove the file from your computer before it gets to infect your computer.

You should know that not all antivirus software is the same. Each has a database of viruses and malware they can recognize. Because cybercriminals are continuously developing new types of malware, no antivirus is able to detect all existing malware.

This is why it is highly important you always keep your antivirus software up to date. With each update, the antivirus adds new types o malware in its database.

If you don't want to invest in antivirus software, we rounded up the best free antivirus software out there to protect your computer from viruses or malware.


2. Firewalls

Enabling a firewall is the next step to protecting your computer and it can go a long way to improving your security.

A firewall acts as a shield between your computer and the external network (the internet).

The information that's exchanged between your computer and the internet is transmitted in the form of data packets. Each data packet contains a set of information (information about the source and destination) and it is assigned to specific ports (entry points) based on this information.

The firewall allows you to set up specific rules so it knows which sources are trustworthy and which aren't, preventing your computer to communicate with malicious sources on the internet. The firewall monitors all the data packets that enter or leave your computer and keeps an eye out for suspicious sources. The more customizable a firewall is, the higher the level of security it can provide.

A firewall will improve your security by only allowing traffic from trusted sources to communicate with your computer. Modern firewalls can filter the traffic based on more advanced criteria such as domain names, applications, keywords, and specific data ports.


3. Backing up your computer

You most likely store all kinds of files on your computer - from music, photos, and movies to spreadsheets and work documents. If something should happen to your computer, you want to know that you won't lose any important files and documents.

Your files could get lost or damaged by:

  • Computer viruses - As you've seen above, viruses automatically spread through your computer, infecting as many files as possible.
  • Ransomware - In case of a ransomware attack, there are high chances you won't get access back to your file even though you chose to pay the ransom.
  • Computer crashing - Not all computer risks are related to viruses and malware. Computers can also physically crash, especially older ones. Not to mention there's always the risk of an accident. From a fire hazard to spilling that cup of tea you keep close to your computer.

To prevent losing data and protect your personal information, you should always back up your computer.

Backing up your computer isn't such an overwhelming task as it may sound. There are various ways in which you can back up your files, and the most common ways are using an external hard drive or cloud storage.

External hard drives

Backing up your files on an external hard drive is a great alternative to make sure you'll never lose your data. Most external hard drives nowadays are small, portable and their prices are low. A 1TB storage hard drive might be enough for you to keep all the important files backed up.

Cloud storage

Cloud storage services provide a place for you to store your files that can't be physically damaged. What's best about cloud storage is that you can access your files anytime, anywhere, from any device. Many cloud storage services also offer you a free amount of space and cheap plans if you should need more space.

Reference - Back up your files


4. Securing WiFi networks

If you own a laptop, you most likely connect to the internet through a WiFi network so you stay away from cluttering your home with a bunch of cables. And, unlike wired networks that can't be hacked without direct access to the cables, WiFi networks can be easily hacked if they are not properly secured.

What can someone do if should get access to your network

  • Take advantage of your subscription - One of your neighbors might find it more convenient to use your internet subscription instead of paying for their own. This will result in lower internet speed.
  • Affected private security - Through getting access to your network, a hacker can access all the devices connected to that network, track your activity, install malware on your computer, steal your private information, and even use your computer as a medium to deploy attacks on other victims.

It's essential you learn how to secure your WiFi network so you protect your computer from getting hacked.

The first step to protecting your network is learning how to open the router settings' page so you properly set things up. You can usually do so by typing "192.168.0.1" or "192.168.1.1" in your web browser's address bar. If this method doesn't work, you can find a dedicated link on the back of your router.

To access the setting page, you must provide the login credentials you find printed in the back of the router. If the login credentials have been changed and you can't remember them, you can reset the router to the factory settings by pressing the reset button on the router.

After you access the router's settings page, you must follow a couple of steps:

  • Create a strong password - Nothing makes your WiFi network more vulnerable than a weak password. Not that it can easily be guessed, but hackers can use dedicated programs that automatically try thousands of hundreds per hour. Make sure your password is strong enough.
  • Change the network's name - Even if this doesn't directly strengthen the network, it will help keep hackers away from targeting your network. Most importantly, by changing the network name no one will know what router brand you own.
  • Strong WiFi encryption - There are more types of WiFi encryption, and some are more secure than others. WPA2 is the most secure type of encryption and it's the one you should be using.

One important thing to note when it comes to WiFi networks is that you should stay away from using public WiFi networks on your laptop without securing your computer by using a VPN service.


5. Maintenance

Last but not least, for your computer to run smoothly, it's important to keep your files and documents in place. Not only cluttering your computer will make it hard for you to find what you need, but it will jam your hard drive causing it to run slow.

To increase the performance of your computer:

  • Get rid of unwanted files - Make a habit of regularly taking a look over the files on your computer and manually delete any files you're not using.
  • Disk Cleanup - Windows users can find the Disk Cleanup program in Control Panel. Run it to scan your computer for any unnecessary or temporary files that can be deleted.
  • Keep your operating system up to data - Make sure you always run the latest version of your OS as with each update, the security patches are solved and it will increase your computer's protection.
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