On Malware and Computer Incompetence (or “How I spent some of my vacation”)
It’s July 23rd, 2013. It has been twenty years since the Tim Berners Lee gifted humanity the World Wide Web, and over ten years since the Internet became mainstream. Individuals who ten years ago thought that The Internet was only for “computer technology fol now have Facebook accounts and read news online. My mother comes to mind. Even people who would be considered “elderly” by most – the now-past-70 crowd – have had some experience with this mysterious virtual space where people communicate across tens of thousands of miles. It would seem to me that at this point, no one should have a computer filled with bloatware (malicious programs that harm the performance of your computer). So why am I looking at a Google Chrome web browser where a full 2/3 of the space is covered by “toolbars” lie “Shop-to-Win”, “SpecialSavings”, SweetPacks, “TelevisionFanaticToolbar”, and “Search-Results Toolbar”, to name a few?
This week, I decided to go on vacation, and as it is traditional for every vacation trip I take, I ended up doing IT work for my family. My brother in-law gave me a Windows 7 computer to fix (Satellite L505 running on an AMD Dual Core )because “it was too slow and it had no sound”.
I have not seen a computer boot up this slowly since Windows Vista! The system took a full three minutes to get to the desktop, and from then an extra five to finish booting all the devices. When I went to the Programs list (Control Panel > Add-Remove Programs) I noticed the… “browsing enhancements” mentioned above, and then some. I don’t know where they got all these ad-ware programs from, but they were there. And the best way of dealing with these type of problems is to format the system. All major computer brands have a “factory reset” option. This one didn’t – and if it did, it was now gone, so I did the next best thing: uninstall all the bars, check the system configuration (search: msconfig), and run Spybot, Malwarebytes, and Avast. I can’t say it’s factory new – heck, I wouldn’t stick my flash drive in it for anything – but it works better than before.
Anyway, on to the point of this post: Tips on how to avoid getting crap into your computer!
Step 1: Be careful where you browse.
That’s pretty much it. If you’re mindful of where you browse and what you look at, you’ll be fine. If you click on every flashy link that says “FREE”, you’ll get an oversized paperweight in no time. Here are the basics of what you need for playing online:
- A good browser. Your computer will by default come installed with Internet Explorer or Safari. You don’t want either of those. You want to download and install the Firefox browser (some prefer Opera or Chrome, and that’s ok. But if you’re starting out, I recommend Firefox). Once you have installed Firefox, you want to install the Ghostery, Better Privacy, and Ad Block Plus add-ons. This will help your system reject potentially threatening malware.
- An antivirus. You probably have the McAffee Free Trial. It works great for 30 days, but once the trial period ends you will be forced to pay for a yearly subscription. Alternatively, you can uninstall McAffee and get AVG Anti Virus or Avast Anti Virus, both of them free. Advice: never install more than one antivirus program simultaneously. This leads to conflicts between antivirus programs and might slow down your system.
- Anti-Spyware programs. These prevent your system from getting malware infections. The two best ones currently on the market are Spybot and MalwareBytes – and both of them are free.
- A search engine. These are pages that help you find things. I favor Google, but Microsoft’s Bing, the Yahoo page, and DuckDuckGo are also fairly popular.
- A social network. These are paes where people gather to communicate with each other and share interests. They have all but replaced what used to be known as “chat rooms”.
- An e-mail account. There are several free e-mail providers. G-Mail, Hotmail, and Yahoo rank among the most popular.
- A blog. If you enjoy writing and sharing yourself with others, you want to go to the WordPress site (this one) or to Blogger and open your own blog.
- Something to read. The Internet is all about information. You will certainly want to read something while you are online. Blogs are as good a place as any to start. You can also read articles from the major print publications online. These include the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, to mention a few. If you want something a bit more lighthearted, you may want to try one of the many online publications from the Gawker network. Jezebel features articles that are often of interest to women (I know, gender stereotypes and whatever – I read some of their stuff too), Gizmodo publishes articles related to technology, and Kotaku covers video game news – most of the time anyway. You can also find articles of interest in the MSN and Yahoo pages. You can find other publications through your search engine of choice, but be mindful of what you click on. Some places are not reputable and may give your computer a virus. If your browser tells you that a site has been reported as suspicious or malicious, don’t enter the site.
- A forum. If you like discussions about topics, you want to join an online forum. Since I mostly discuss games and media, I spend most of my forum time on video game forums. You can use your search engine to find forums, but once again, be mindful of what you click on.
- Youtube. A streaming video site. Youtube is a website where creators upload original content. You will find anything from funny cat videos to Harvard lectures. Youtube is a safe site (as far as computer viruses and spam is concerned), so click away with confidence. A warning – while Youtube itself is safe, some users leave comments with malicious links. Just to be on the safe side, never click on a link posted by a user or in a video description.
Other things you may want include Open Office – a free productivity suit, Winamp – a program to listen to music, and VLC – a program to watch videos.
If you like games, head over to Nexon or Aria Games for some free online games, or to GoG and Steam for some good offers on PC games.
Remember, stay away from stuff like Video-Performer, Vid-Saver, Wajam, WhteSmoke, or Yontoo and you will be fine.
And if you decide to click on a malicious link anyway, don’t give your computer to the “family IT guy” when he’s on vacation.
Have any other resources you want to share, or advice on what pages or programs to stay away from? Leave a comment!