Here are four of the most common ways you might infect your computer:
#1 - Open an Attachment
Virtually everyone now knows that email attachments can be dangerous. Yet they are still a leading cause of computer infections.
Many of us need to send and receive files as a regular part of our work. We try to be very careful. But it happens to the best of us. In a moment of distraction, a client of ours - an attorney - saw a "UPS invoice" and opened it. He quickly realized his mistake and shut down his computer.
Many, many other people have not been so fortunate, falling victim to ransomware, data theft and many hours of downtime after opening malicious attachments.
#2 - Click a Link in an Email
Cybercriminals have tested and retested the language that motivates people to click links. You may not be fooled by many, many fake emails, but it only takes one preoccupied moment for you to drop your guard.
An email may be "from" someone you recognize. In fact, your friend's email account may have been hacked. Double-check on these aspects of an email link: 1) Were you expecting the email or was it out of the blue? 2) Hover over the link to see a pop-up on your computer screen informing you the true source of the link. If you have any doubt at all, start a new email to your friend and ask if they sent you the link.
#3 - Click a Link in a Smartphone Message
You are even more likely to be tricked on your mobile phone. The screen is smaller. You won't see a pop-up showing the true source of a link in a text message. Your phone can become infected more easily than most computers.
If a cybercriminal gets a foothold on your phone, they can steal bank passwords and take over your email. Those actions can allow them to break into all sorts of your accounts. Think twice before you tap!
#4 - Download and Open a Free Program
Generous techies have created a wonderful assortment of open source programs freely available on the internet. Nefarious hackers know the compelling appeal of "free." They have strewn dodgy, innocent-looking websites with free software promising to do amazing things. In fact, these "utilities" range from simply annoying adware programs to Trojan horse malware used to steal from you.
I like open source, free programs. But I am very careful in two ways:
- I search for reviews of open source programs to identify popular, well-tested leaders in their categories.
- I look for the authors' download pages, not third-party collections of free software. Third-party collections may have out-of-date versions with unpatched security holes or even virus-infected installation files.
Of course there are other cybersecurity hazards ranging from misconfigured firewalls and weak passwords to infected webpages and socially engineered phone calls. It is important to pay attention the latest threats covered in the news and to the best defenses against them.