Once, computer viruses and cyber security breaches were the domain of playful – yet ultimately harmless - pranksters. Those times have passed.
Today, cybercrime is responsible for an estimated cost of $100 billion annually in the United States alone. And don’t think that just because you’re a small business or an average Joe that you’ll be able to somehow go unnoticed by cybercriminals; modern hackers use complex programs which scour the net looking for unprotected systems and exploitable weaknesses.
In fact, an unprotected computer connected to the internet will likely become compromised within seven minutes of startup. The point is, malware is everywhere, and one of the most dangerous forms of malware is spyware. Spyware is mainly concerned with gathering personal and sensitive data rather than disrupting programs, and as such, spyware infections often go unnoticed for long periods of time. However, there are steps that you can take to avoid having your personal data compromised by a spyware infection. Here’s how:
1. Use Virus Protection
A good virus protection program can be expensive, but not using any protection at all will end up costing you more in the long run. Modern antivirus programs use advanced threat intelligence and are constantly updated to stay concurrent with the advances in malware. As such, they really are your best defence when it comes to spyware.
However, you should always make sure to install any antivirus updates as they are released. Otherwise, you could encounter a new invading program that your out-of-date protection software is unprepared for. Just be sure to use a trusted antivirus software and not some free dowload that you find while surfing the web. Many free online programs actually take the guise of protection software purely for the sake of getting into your computer and downloading malicious software. On the other hand, some internet providers include free access to antivirus software as part of their promotional offers.
2. Be careful on the web
While it’s true that your computer could become infected almost anywhere on the web, certain sites are much more likely to contain and spread malware. Don’t click on unknown links, and never download anything without first checking out reviews and having the program inspected by your antivirus software.
If you’re using the internet and the website prompts you to some action via a ‘pop-up’ window, don’t click on any of the options given. Instead, close the page by using the key command Alt + F4. If that doesn’t close the popup, open your computer’s task manager by pressing Ctrl + Alt + Delete, and close down the entire internet browser.
3. Keep an eye open
If your computer has already been infected, it may not be readily obvious. You can take a few steps to locate spyware that may already be in your system. You can start by reopening task manager on your computer (Ctrl + Alt + Delete). Select the ‘processes’ tab. This will give you an overview of every program that is running on your computer. With that open, make note of the names of each and every one of the processes, and then do an internet search for each to see if any have been linked to spy software.
You should also be aware of any unauthorized changes to your computer, such as the appearance of new toolbars and alterations made to your browser homepage.
4. Get rid of it
Spyware, like any other software, can be removed from your system. However, if you don’t know what you’re doing, your attempts may be unfruitful, or worse, counterproductive. Instead, take your computer to a trusted computer shop (be sure to read reviews) and have them perform a computer cleaning. These services don’t generally cost too much, and they can sure be helpful when you need them.
5. Perform damage control
If you happened to find possible spyware in your system, you should just go right ahead and assume that all of your personal information has already been compromised. So, set to work changing passwords, canceling credit cards, and doing anything else you can think of to ensure that a hacker doesn’t start using your identity as his own personal playground. If you think that your identity may have already been compromised, contact the authorities.
Spyware is everywhere, but with a little knowledge and some caution, you’ll be able to surf the web without fear of infection. Remember, your identity is one of your most valuable possessions, so do whatever you need to do to protect it.