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Cybersecurity Awareness Month 2017: Block malware from infecting your computer

Posted by on Wednesday, October 25, 2017 in News, , , , , , , , , .

By definition, malware is malicious software that infects computers, resulting in activity against the interests and/or intentions of the computer’s regular user/owner. The effects of malware could be as benign as slower performance and as malignant as loss of data, attacks on other machines, or worse. Trying to recover from data loss or attacks on others can be time consuming and reputation impacting, and there is no guarantee that the recovery will successful.

Let’s back up. How did your computer even become infected with malware in the first place? The answer mostly boils down to:

  • Visiting a malicious website or an innocent website that has been compromised
  • Clicking on a malicious link or opening a malicious attachment.

With the uptick in such cybersecurity issues as phishing and hacking, malware may seem to be the least threatening. While your credentials and identity may not be stolen through malware, it becomes an issue when you can no longer access your files because of a dysfunctional computer.

Rest assured that there are steps you can take today to help stop malware from infecting your computer:

  • Run a host-based firewall, such as the one that comes with Microsoft Windows or IP Tables for Linux.
  • Run an antivirus program. There are several free ones, and some internet service providers offer such programs with their services.
  • Set your operating systems and other applications to automatically apply patches (updates). This way, you will not need to remember to apply critical patches.
  • Practice safe email habits, and exercise extreme caution when clicking on links or opening email attachments.
  • Use strong passwords for your accounts. A strong password has at least eight characters with uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and a special character. Remember: Do not use the same password for multiple accounts.
  • Use an account with minimum rights when surfing the web.
  • On your browser, enable add-ons to block scripts and ads. Most malware comes through these pathways, so blocking them will also block the malware.

NOTE: Some sites will not work without allowing scripts, and some won’t work without allowing ads. However, you can configure the add-ons to allow exceptions. Before doing so, be sure you trust the site running allowed scripts or ads.

Follow these steps, and your computer’s likelihood of becoming infected with malware will drop tremendously. For assistance in making any of the above suggested changes to your computer or browsing habits, call the VUIT Help Desk at (615) 343-9999 or email Security Operations at vuit.security.operations@vanderbilt.edu.

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