The Internet is still in its infancy. OK, so we’ve been online for a quarter of a century or so, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s still young. When we look back in time, 25 years is nothing.
The Internet is lawless, full of amateurs, gamblers, travelers and seekers. It’s akin to the wild West of early America. There really is nobody in charge; we are on our own.
Just about everybody now has a computer, and anyone with a computer goes online. Anyone who is online is therefore vulnerable, fair game, easy pickings to those who hide in the virtual tumbleweed of the Internet.
So each time we go online it’s like being in a stagecoach that may be robbed by bandits.
There are viruses that attack your files, malware that pops up out of nowhere and hackers who do whatever damage they can, just for the sake of doing it.
You can get caught by key loggers who steal your passwords, scammers who take your money and hostage takers who hold your system ransom until you pay them. It is the wild West. You are traversing unknown territory; you don’t know who to trust and there’s not a sheriff in sight.
Recent ransomware scammers passed themselves off as FBI agents warning us that we have been on illegal websites. Others posed as Microsoft technicians in phone calls warning us about corrupt Windows files. Then there were the Nigerian emails advising us of our monetary windfall, if we would only pay the taxes to them up front.
Well, it is every man (and woman) for themselves and nobody has your back, no matter what they say. Your new computer is unsecured and you need to protect it yourself or it may fall in the hands of a nefarious Internet thief.
First off, get, configure and use an antivirus application. Some are good, some are better than others; all are better than nothing. Do online research about specific antivirus products. See what reviews there are. Don’t trust the authors of the apps; instead, have faith in the what editors and users have to say about them.
A proactive utility that scans in real time will also be more effective than one that does not. It is like the difference between a bouncer either not letting someone into an establishment or having to toss him out after he wrecks the place.
Sure, you could probably eradicate an infection and clean up the mess it made, but wouldn’t it be easier simply stop it from gaining access in the first place?
Most of the free antivirus utilities are not proactive. You need to run frequent scans. If you are online daily, have the application scan your system daily.
Some security apps are suites, in that they deal in more than viruses. Malware is a huge issue. I have cleaned a lot more malware infections off of computer systems than I have viruses. See what utility you are using — see what protection it offers.
Don’t open emails or click on links within them that you know nothing about, no matter how enticing they may be.
Stay away from websites that you have not deliberately gone to. Many redirects will take you to a site where you may get infected. If your security app warns you that you may be on a page that has known security risks, get out of there quickly.
Don’t fall for the free utility download scenarios you’ll run into online. Some are genuine, decent applications, although most are not. They are masked bandits after your credit card or your data. If in doubt, again, do your homework and research the app in question. Keep in mind your first hit in your search may very well be from the author of that app, so keep reading.
If your computer has a recovery partition, as most newer ones do, an operating system reinstallation is feasible in a disastrous situation. If you have Windows 7 or earlier, you may need to create a couple of recovery discs to be safe.
The first one is a boot disc (not a bad idea for everyone, really) that will allow you to gain access to your computer should you be locked out. The second is a system disc that copies Windows to a series of DVDs (or external USB drive) for you.
From the Start Menu, find your way to All Programs > Maintenance > Backup and Restore, as well as to Create a System Repair disc. Burn them and then store them in a safe place. Then back up your stuff. Should the worst happen, you now will be able to reload Windows and have a copy of your personal data.
So there’s a new sheriff in town. He’s called protection. It’s something every town and every computer needs. Without it, chaos reigns.
Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville.