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3 steps to virus-proof your computer

In a world that sees near-constant data breaches, hacking attacks and phishing scams, it’s easy to forget about the danger of the good old-fashioned virus. Even though viruses are increasingly under the radar, though, doesn’t mean they aren’t a serious threat.

There are thousands of viruses floating around right now waiting to attack your computer. In fact, an unprotected computer connected to the internet can get a virus in less than a minute. That means securing your computer correctly is still incredibly important.

You might be thinking that you don’t need to keep reading because your computer isn’t crashing, freezing or acting like it has a virus. Unfortunately, you can’t go by that anymore.

Aside from ransomware, which makes a big splash by locking your files and forcing you to pay to get them back, most viruses don’t make a lot of noise and drama. That’s because they’re lurking silently on your system stealing your passwords or banking information.

Or maybe those annoying pop-up ads you’ve been getting while browsing are actually coming from your computer, not the sites you’re visiting. There are plenty of ways a virus can act. Learn more signs your computer might have a virus.

Whatever it is, you can keep most viruses off your computer with some simple steps. Read on to find out what they are.

1. Install security software

This one shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has read for a while. The first thing we typically recommend you do when you get a new computer is to install security software.

Good security software will keep 99.99 percent of viruses out of your system and let you focus on avoiding the big threats instead of hassling with the small stuff. Whether the virus is in a download, email or coming at you online, security software can detect and block it.

There are plenty of security software programs, some free and some paid. Free programs like Avast and AVG are nice because, well, they’re free.

However, while they do the basic scanning and protection well, they aren’t going to have the range of extra options that a paid option might, such as a firewall, parental controls, website reputation monitoring or protection for multiple gadgets from one place.

If you want less hassle, you can look at paid options like Symantec or Norton.

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Of course, installing security software doesn’t help much if you never update it. Hundreds of new viruses are released every day and updates help your security know what’s dangerous and what isn’t. It isn’t just your security software you need to keep up to date, however.

2. Keep software up to date

There’s an important term in computer security you need to know called a “zero-day exploit.” This is a security flaw that shipped with a program and hasn’t been fixed yet.

If hackers can find a zero-day flaw in a program, they can use it to attack computers until the software developer finds the flaw and updates the program. These types of flaws pop up regularly in major software like Windows and other Microsoft programs, web browsers, Adobe programs and Java.

Zero-day flaws often let hackers get around your security software with no input from you. Obviously, it’s important to update these programs, and any other programs you use, whenever patches are available.

Fortunately, most major programs have automatic updating. You can set up auto-updating in Windows, for example, which covers every Microsoft program, including Internet Explorer.

Web browsers Firefox and Chrome both have auto-updating. You just need to restart the browser to install the latest updates. If you close your browser every evening, you should be fine.

Adobe products and Java have update notifications, but won’t necessarily install them for you. Keep an eye out for notifications that there are updates. Adobe Flash and Java are two of the biggest hacker targets this year.

You’ll definitely want to uninstall Java unless you absolutely need it. The internet is phasing out Adobe Flash. Try disabling it and see how often you really need to use it.

3. Choose the right account type

When you first set up a computer, you create at least one user account. If you have several people using a computer, you can create an account for each one.

User accounts are important because they separate your files, and sometimes programs. This is good for privacy and security, as long as each account has its own password.

However, what many people don’t know is that there are multiple types of accounts you can create. The two major ones are “administrator” and “standard.”

The difference is that someone using an administrator account can do whatever they want to Windows, including changing settings and installing new programs. Someone using a standard account can’t unless they put in the right password.

That makes standard accounts great for kids or less-savvy users. However, in actual fact, everyone should be using a standard account. That way if a virus sneaks onto your system, it can’t install without your permission, which makes you safer.

Before Windows Vista, the default account type was administrator. In Windows 7 and after, the default account type should be standard, although sometimes it isn’t.

You’ll want to check your user accounts right away and change any administrator accounts to standard accounts. Click here for step-by-step instructions. If you’re running a Mac, here are some instructions for you.

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