Believe it or not, computer viruses have been around since the early 1970s — and unfortunately aren’t going away anytime soon. More than 24 million people dealt with a serious virus in 2009, and that number has climbed year-over-year: There has been a “five-fold increase” in cyberattacks in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
These viruses don’t just endanger your computer, either. 33% of the US population has suffered from identity theft, for example, and over 14 million Americans join their ranks each year. For those who suffer from identity theft, the single most common cause is credit card theft — which primarily happens digitally. Solving identity theft costs around $1,300 on average, too.
Luckily, you don’t have to fall victim to the ongoing wave of cybersecurity threats. With a few preventative measures, you can keep your computer, data, and personal life safe from bad actors.
What is a Virus?
Like a human virus, computer viruses are designed to infect computer systems for nefarious reasons and can cause all sorts of damage, like:
- Stealing private information (e.g., credit card details, Social Security numbers)
- Spamming email contacts to sell products
- Erasing data
- Ransoming your data for profit
- Using your computer’s processing power to infect other devices and earn money
- And more
In other words, there are plenty of ways viruses can harm you or your computer, and the type of damage done depends on the type with which you’re dealing.
Types of Computer Viruses
There are well over 10,000 active computer viruses. Some exist simply to shower ads across your home screen, while others seek to damage critical systems or steal your private data. There are a few common computer virus expressions, including:
- Generic viruses
These are probably the first things you think of when you hear the word “virus.” Generic viruses infect computers, install copies of themselves on other computers, and spread like wildfire.
The term “malware” simply means malicious software. Technically, all viruses are malware, but not all malware are viruses. From programs to email attachments and file-sharing, malware has plenty of pathways to your computer.
As the name suggests, spyware is malicious software that spies on your activities. The overall goal of spyware is to sniff out passwords, credit card information, and other private details.
These are scary. Trojans disguise themselves as legitimate programs, then install malware on your computer when you run them. Unlike generic viruses, Trojans can’t replicate. You have to run the software to get them.
If your computer has a bunch of popups, you may have adware. This malicious software forces your computer to be bombarded with advertisements, which earn the adware creator money.
Like generic viruses, worms replicate themselves. These tricky viruses don’t need to be attached to software and are often malicious files that directly target operating systems.
Unlike other viruses, phishing attempts don’t actually contain any code. Instead, they’re social engineering techniques meant to steal information directly from you. You might get an email claiming to be your aunt looking for a money transfer to help them out with an issue, for example. This is likely a phishing technique to scam you out of money or identifying information.
There is a wide variety of dangerous viruses, and you ideally want to take proactive measures to protect against them. Here are seven preventative measures that can help.
7 Best Ways to Prevent Computer Viruses
1. Install an Antivirus
Antivirus software is the go-to solution for virus prevention because the programs scan your computer’s hard drive regularly for malicious files, contain methods of containing and eliminating viruses they find, and are getting really good at detecting issues. In fact, antivirus software detects around 360,000 viruses and malware every day. There are plenty of solutions on the market and should be installed on all your primary devices.
2. Install Anti-Malware Software
Antivirus software can catch malware, but it’s designed to focus on generic viruses, trojans, and worms. Anti-malware solutions are hyper-focused on eliminating all malware — with a special focus on those that are currently circulating — so, it’s not unusual for anti-malware solutions to be more up-to-date on current malware trends.
3. Keep Your Antivirus Software Up-to-date
It’s easy to ignore the “update now” popups. Most of us have hundreds of programs and/or apps installed on our computers, so those update popups become background noise at some point. Studies show that around half of the programs installed on your PC are out-of-date, and that’s ok! You don’t have to update every program, but you do have to update your antivirus and anti-malware. There are over 1 million new types of viruses released each year, and your antivirus and malware solution will need access to the constant updates that keep new threat vectors from impacting your devices. Don’t skimp on the updates!
4. Use a Firewall
Whether you use Windows or Mac, you have access to a firewall. Make sure it’s enabled. Sometimes that firewall gets in the way, and may have you click through some popups when you use an app it’s not familiar with or close your favorite video or game to give you some information. These systems are not perfect, but they are your first line of defense against viruses.
5. Update Your Operating System
Around 15% of Windows users are running an out-of-date version of their operating systems, and Apple users don’t fare much better. Your operating system comes with built-in security features like firewalls and account controls that help safeguard you against threats. When your OS is a few updates behind, you’re not getting access to all the new security patches that were created for a reason: to protect you against threats. We heavily recommend you turn on automatic updates for your OS.
6. Use Strong Passwords
Two in five people had their accounts hacked due to password woes, last year and 21% of people are using the same password they’ve used for the last 10 years. That’s a bad idea. You want to create unique, long, mixed-character passwords for your critical accounts. Even better, enable two-factor authentication — which will send you an email/text for confirmation when you attempt to log-in. Believe it or not, Microsoft data shows that two-factor authentication prevents 99.99% of ALL hacks.
7. Use a File Shredder
Viruses often have one goal in mind: acquiring your private data. A reputable file shredding solution can help you permanently delete the critical and vulnerable files from your computer when you no longer need them, which prevents viruses from scoping out your private data. Remember those old tax documents sitting in that folder on your desktop? Those are a gold mine for hackers. If you just drag those files to the trash bin, they leave behind little traces of themselves, which hackers can reconstruct. Used in combination with antivirus solutions, a file shredder like ShredCube can help you keep your private data right where it belongs — in your hands.
Get Help Securing Your Precious Data
Preventing computer viruses can keep your computer, identity, and home safe and secure from threat actors. At ShredCube, we offer hyper-secure, permanent, and easy file shredding to keep your most sensitive files out of hackers’ hands. Contact Shred Cube today to discuss your computer virus prevention needs, or to speak with an expert about other IT security questions you might have.