Security and Safety

How to Keep Your Devices Virus-Free

By Jennifer Chappell Smith 10.10.16

We know the internet can be a scary, scary place — especially with talk of hackers and identity theft seemingly everywhere. You can’t help but wonder: Is that link a trick? Is my online payment secure?

You’re right to be worried. The Insurance Information Institute reports that according to Javelin Strategy & Research’s 2016 Identity Fraud Study, a whopping $15 billion was stolen from 13.1 million U.S. consumers in 2015. Though that figure is down from $16 billion and 12.7 million victims the previous year, it’s still quite a bit of cash taken and people affected.

That’s why the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) started an awareness campaign declaring October National Cyber Security Awareness Month. You can make your computer safer and feel better about using the internet by understanding the threats — and knowing what to be suspicious of and what not to fear.

First, get to know the lingo. The NCSA defines the major threats you should be aware of as:

  • Viruses: This malicious kind of software can spread just like the flu from computer to computer. It can be transmitted many ways, but commonly comes via email, messaging apps, and browser downloads. One email virus called MyDoom caused an estimated $38.5 billion in financial damage, according to a Heimdal Security report.
  • Spyware, or Adware: These programs download without permission or creep into your computer when you click a link, making your machine obey the commands of another.
  • Botnets: These networks of computers run by criminal groups try to access user passwords and account information for nefarious purposes — often to steal money.

To combat these legitimate threats, the NCSA advises users to “Keep a Clean Machine.” That means you can protect yourself from malicious programs by:

  • Updating software, web browsers, and operating systems. Never disregard or postpone the recommended updates.
  • Avoiding suspicious links on emails and social media. For instance, if you get an email from a friend’s valid email address but it only contains a link with no message, don’t click it. Delete the email and alert your friend.
  • Protecting all of your devices that access the internet. That means not only your computer, but also your tablet and smartphone.
  • Scanning devices that plug into your computer. USBs and other external devices should be scanned by your computer’s security software to make sure they’re not infected.
  • Fighting back if hacked. The NCSA recommends that you alert your contacts if you suspect you’ve been hacked. Then update security software and change the passwords to your accounts.
  • Securing wireless routers in your home. Give your device a unique name and create a strong password: a combination of numbers and letters that’s not something a crook could guess. Also make sure to turn on the firewall, which serves as a protective barrier to hackers.

Panda Security reports that hoaxes can also strike fear where it’s not needed. Some folks in the cyber world capitalize on this by sending emails that look like viruses but aren’t. These messages may have undated warnings or urge immediate action. They’re an equivalent of old-school chain letters and usually are harmless, but experts recommend you delete anything that seems to fit that description.

No matter their size, cyber security threats should be treated with care. Even if you aren’t a corporate executive or millionaire (just yet), you’re still at risk. These precautions should give you some peace of mind, but you should still remain vigilant to keep your finances and identity secure online. 

Check out our article “Cyber Care: Protect Your Privacy in a Digital World” for more ways to stay safe out there on the World Wide Web. And make sure your property and assets are protected in the real world by scheduling a 360 Review® with your Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent today.