I dread seeing those “unsafe website” warnings when I’m searching the Internet. I always worry the damage is already done by the time the message pops up on my computer screen. Emails are just as bad. Anyone who has ever lost a day’s productivity—or valuable data and documents—to a virus-infected computer knows my fear.
Just like vaccines don’t protect against us every possible strain of influenza, there’s no foolproof way to prevent computer infections. But we all know that simple habits like sneezing into your elbow and washing your hands can augment flu shots to help prevent viruses from spreading among people. Likewise, there are some simple ways to build up the immunity on your computers.
Healthy hygiene for your IT assets
Here are some tips to help avoid computer viruses:
Use professional-grade protection
Ensure that you and your employees have anti-virus and anti-malware programs on every work computer and tablet. For clarification purposes, a virus is a type of malware, and anti-malware software helps protect your computer from becoming infected. Anti-virus software, on the other hand, finds and eradicates viruses after an attack, though some anti-virus software also protect against malware. When it comes to anti-malware and anti-virus protection, don’t trust your business environment to free systems. Licensing professional-grade software provides more security against rapidly perpetuating threats.
Stay in the safety zone
Malware—including worms, Trojan horses, spyware, adware, and rootkits—can be delivered through email or on websites. Caution employees against opening suspicious emails, downloading unknown attachments, or visiting websites that can’t be trusted. Set your web browser security settings to help minimize risk. All email attachments should be scanned for viruses before clicking. Instead of clicking directly to URLs embedded in email, access websites manually through the browser.
Back it up!
If a virus does strike, removing it could require wiping your computer clean and reinstalling software and backup copies of your files. You can reduce the effects of a strike by being sure backup copies exist! Since your server can become infected, too, you may decide to back up your files to the cloud. Back up files regularly to protect yourself against unnecessary data loss.
Anti-malware software is only as good as its last update. It can’t detect a new virus if it hasn’t been told that it exists. Let the automatic updating feature on your software do its thing, or be sure to manually update daily. New malware emerges every day, so scan your computer regularly with that updated software. If you don’t opt for automatic scans, run a scan at least weekly. Some experts recommend running one every night and rebooting the system in the morning.
When viruses strike…
The tips above can go a long way to protecting you from the effects of viruses and malware. If you are unlucky enough to have downloaded a virus onto your computer, here’s what you can do to lessen the damage:
Quarantine and diagnose the infection
If your computer is on a shared network, disconnect it. Although viruses can be passed from one computer to another through email or infected documents, worms can spread among computers on a network, as well as through external drives and thumb drives. If your computer starts acting up—running slower than usual, producing error messages, or crashing frequently—run a full scan with your anti-virus software or use a remote diagnostic service. If you detect malware on a computer, scan the other computers that were on the same network to be sure the infection didn’t spread.
Remove the virus
Based on personal experience, anyone short of an IT pro is better off getting help to remove the virus. You could try anti-virus software. Once the software reports that the virus has been removed, reboot the computer and scan it again. If the malware is still present, talk to your IT support person or seek outside assistance to have it removed.