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How to protect against and prevent malware

Summary

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Computer running slow? It could be malware.

Malware goes by a variety of names, including viruses, Trojan horses, back doors, rootkits, spyware and ad ware. All are unwanted programs with the potential to cause you and your computer harm, even potentially allowing access to your bank accounts and other secured, personal files.

It infects computers through a variety of sources, including emails — particularly those with attachments — file sharing, unsecured routers, downloads or compromised websites.

Estimates show 25 to 40 percent of computers in the United States are infected with some type of malware; some benign and some serious.

True to its malicious nature, malware can be running in the background, slowing down your computer with no visible evidence. It can also use up some of your data, making you hit your data allowance sooner than you anticipated.

So how do you know you’ve got malware? In addition to decreased speed, watch for these symptoms:
  • Unusual screen messages about registry errors
  • A sudden increase in pop-up ads
  • The web browser goes to an unexpected website.
  • The tool bar on your web browser suddenly has new features or options, or the default search engine abruptly changes.
  • The anti-virus, firewall or PC security software becomes disabled.
  • Increased PC crashes, especially “blue screen” system failures
  • Excessive hard disk read/write activity when the PC isn’t in use           
If you’re having consistent computer performance issues and suspect malware’s the culprit, contact Customer Care. We have a small team dedicated to helping customers eradicate malware. We’ll help you diagnose the issue. And if we suspect malware is the cause of your problem, you’ll be connected to our security team members.

Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you avoid malware:

Do's

* Use an anti-virus software program
* Always turn off/shutdown your PC if you are not using it for extended periods of time.
* Always password-protect your computer and use passwords that aren't easily detectable.
* Check your computer hard drive space.

Always keep at least
 15% of the hard drive space free to keep the computer running smoothly. To check your hard drive space:
On a 
PC: Go to My Computer, right-click on Local Drive, and go to Properties. There you'll see a pie chart of your free and used space. If it’s mostly full, you'll want to start by removing unnecessary programs and files.
On a
Mac: Click on the hard drive icon in the finder and select Get Info from the File menu.
* Remove any programs you do not use.
On a
PC: Go to Control Panel > Add or Remove Programs (or Uninstall a Program, depending on your operating system) to find a master list of programs installed on your computer. Some things will strike you as useless immediately, in which case you can remove them right away. Others won’t look familiar to you and may require you some research.
On a
Mac: Review the items in the Applications folder and drag any you don’t want into the trash.
When in doubt, don't remove anything you don’t recognize, it may be critical to the function of your computer.
* Always empty the recycling bin (on a PC) or trash (on a Mac).
* Prevent unncessary programs from starting when the computer boots.

The more programs try to run while your computer initializes, the slower your startup time will be. On a PC, revise your startup programs by altering your system configuration via MSConfig. On a Mac, do this by logging into System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Items.
* Run a disk cleanup.

PC: This can clean up hundreds of megabytes of temporary files – sometimes even gigabytes (if you have Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 8.1). It will also open a window in which you can choose what to delete. Go to My Computer, right-click the Hard Drive and select Properties, and then click Disc Cleanup (within the General tab). Check all the boxes except for the game files and setup files.
* Run a disk defragment.

This will reconfigure the way the hard drive stores information for maximum efficiency. Go to My Computer, right-click the Hard Drive and select Properties, then go to the Tools tab and click Defragment Now.
On a Mac: Open the Disk Utility program and repair disk permissions. You can read more about this on the Apple website. There are also third-party programs for cleaning Macs.
* Operating system upgrades.

Along with keeping your antivirus software up to date, keeping your operating system supplied with the latest updates will do a world of difference. We recommend checking for new updates a few times a month, because many of these updates will help to close security holes, and will also optimize certain aspects of your operating system. Be aware, however, that some of the larger updates can consume a lot of data. 

Don'ts

* Download files or programs from sites you don't know or trust.
* Use easily detectable passwords on your computer
.

Avoid using your name, date of birth, mother's maiden name, etc.
* Use the same passwords for all your files.
* Purchase from a website that doesn't start with https:

The “s” following the http in the URL address stands for “secure”
* Click on short links.

At least, don’t click without doing proper research first. The problem here is that the final destination is unknown. Refer to websites like www.checkshorturl.com to verify that link is for real, and will take you where you want to go. 
* Download free movies or music from file-sharing networks.
* Open attachments in email.

Malware is often embedded in these files, and is very difficult to detect until after the infection has occurred.
* Blindly click on links in browsers or emails.

Just because the link reads www.facebook.com doesn’t mean it’s going to Facebook. It’s safest to hover over the link and look at the bottom of the browser to see the exact destination address. If the link and the destination address don’t match up, don’t click.

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