How to Avoid Malware

There are many ways malware can infect your computer. But with some simple tips you can easily avoid even the nastiest of viruses. These tips apply to both Mac and Windows machines.

Here are the most common ways malware infects your computer:

Outdated Anti-Virus and Unpatched Operating Systems – Every day criminals are finding new ways to exploit your computer, operating system, and installed applications.

  • Keep up to date with the latest operating system updates and patches
  • Keep up to date with the last anti-virus definitions and patches
  • Keep up to date with the last application updates and patches

If the manufacturer is releasing updates or patches to fix a problem, you can assume that criminals are actively trying to exploit computers that have not yet been updated/patched.

Drive-by Downloads – When you visit a website a script on the site secretly runs and installs malware

  • Avoid suspicious websites
  • Make sure your anti-virus, operating system, and web browser is up-to-date

Website Ads – Many ads are designed to persuade the user to click on the ad or to click on a Close button in the ad. When the user clicks on the ad or Close button, a “drive-by” download is initiated and malware is installed.

  • Do not click on advertisements or Close buttons. Instead, close the window through the( x) in the upper right corner of the window

Website Popup Alerts – Web Popup alerts falsely tell the user that their machine is infected with a virus or has some other problem that needs to be fixed. The user will click on the alert and either be asked to install the software (really malware in disguise) that is purported to fix the problem or a “drive-by” download will be initiated.

  • Do not click or engage with the popup window. In the example to the right (click image for larger version), do not click on the “Pause” or “Stop” buttons.
  • Close the window by either closing the browser completely or through the (x) in the upper right corner of the window

Free Games, Applications, and Screen Savers – Many free applications and games are simply vehicles designed to install malware. Even if the application itself is functional, malware may still be installed on your computer.

  • Only download applications from trusted websites such as itunes.apple.com, download.cnet.com, and gamespot.com

Media Players – A popular source of malware is a website media player download. When a user wants to play a video, the website will ask to install a video codec or other required software. When the user installs the application, the malware is also installed and the video may or may not play.

  • No matter how enticing the video, only install media player software from trusted websites such as Apple.com, Microsoft.com, and Adobe.com, winamp.com, videolan.org

Pornographic Websites – Many pornographic websites contain malware that is either installed though drive-by downloads or media player installations.

  • No matter how enticing the video, only install media player software from trusted websites such as Apple.com, Microsoft.com, and Adobe.com, winamp.com, videolan.org
  • Do not download or install any files or applications from the website
  • Make sure your anti-virus and operating system are up to date with security patches

Email attachments – One of the oldest ways to spread malware is through email attachments

  • Do not open attachments from people you do not know
  • If a friend sends you an attachment that looks suspicious contact them first before opening the attachment
  • Never open emails that end in .exe, .bat, .com, .vbs

Phishing Emails – Phishing emails will try to convince users into clicking on a link within the email. The link will take the user to a website that will either try to make the user manually install malware or will perform a “drive-by” download to install the malware.

Peer – to – Peer (P2P) / file sharing programs and websites – Many of the P2P software such as Kazaa, Bearshare, and iMesh contain malware that will be installed when you install the P2P software. In addition, malware has often been disguised as legitimate music and video files for download.

  • Do not download or upload copyrighted material; this is illegal and against the NU Acceptable Use Policy.
  • Do not allow P2P uploading to your computer
  • Run any downloaded file through a virus scan before opening
  • Only install P2P software that has been verified malware free