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Basic precautions

Keep antivirus software on your computer!

At Delaware Tech, DIET keeps your domain computer safe with the Sophos antivirus product.  For your own personal machines, there are many choices.  Some have cost as much as $70 per year, and are available at stores like Staples, Best Buy and others.  However, there are free alternatives, listed below.

Important Note:  Only install one AV product on each computer, tablet or phone.  Two or more AV products can fight for resources, slow down your computer, and even sometimes trigger alarms on each other.

For Windows

Microsoft provides MS Security Essentials for free.  This is mostly for Windows 7 and earlier; On Windows 8, the functions of Security Essentials and Defender have been combined, and all you need to install is Windows Defender.

For Mac

If you own a Mac, you have at least three free products to choose from:

Sophos
Avast
Clam AV

For Linux

Linux users will hear that their operating system is so secure, they don't need antivirus.  Mac people used to say the same thing!  As an operating system gets more popular, or as bragging rights for compromising systems get more attractive, more of the bad guys will be targeting Linux systems.  It's a good idea to be ready when this happens!

Depending on what distribution you're using, your package manager might have something like clamAV already on a menu.  Just open the package manager, search for antivirus, and install what they have on offer.  If you want to pick from downloads, several vendors will provide:

Clam AV
AVG
Avast

Keep your Operating System up to date! 

Microsoft users:

First and foremost, if you're still using Windows XP, please upgrade now!  That could mean buying Windows 7 or Windows 8 at a software store, or simply purchasing a new computer.  Windows XP is no longer maintained by Microsoft and it is impossible to keep it up to date.  Any new vulnerabilities found in XP will go unpatched!
Windows Update icon

For Vista and later:  Microsoft releases Windows patches on the second Tuesday of each month; when your computer is ready to download or install patches, an icon will appear in the system tray (shown at right).  Let Windows update!  This closes up vulnerabilities that hackers use to get in to your system.  It is just as important as antivirus software!

Mac users:

App Store updates
For Macintosh systems, starting with Mountain Lion, the App Store will notify you with a number over its icon, telling you how many updates are available (shown at right).  Earlier versions pop up the Software Update box.  This is just as important for Mac as it is for Windows!  Keep that system patched!

Linux users:

Most consumer distributions will monitor their own repositories for updates.  Please let the updates happen when the OS pops up the message, or as soon as practical afterwards.

Software Needs Updating, too!

So, I let me operating system update and now I have no vulnerabilities, right?  Well, no.  The OS won't update third party apps, such as Adobe Reader or Flash.  Web browsers and even Office products need patching from time to time. Some of these will check for updates, but not all do.

At this time, the easiest method for Windows that I know of is Secunia's Personal Software Inspector, which looks after all the third-party applications and keeps an eye on Microsoft patches as well.

For some users, PSI may not be suitable.  There are a small number of software conflicts.  If you find that PSI isn't for you, the general rule is to let applications check for updates themselves (Adobe products and most browsers do this).  If you're not sure about a particular program, many will show the version in the Help / About menu, often including a link to check for updates.

Secunia PSI is also available for Android smart phones.

For Apple products, make sure your App Store settings automatically update your software.  If you get software from outside the App store (such as the aforementioned Adobe products), make sure they are set to check for updates.

For most distributions of Linux, the same repository manager / update manager that looks after the operating system will also look after software that comes from the repository.  It will also automatically check any other repositories you have manually added.  This casts a very wide net, and will handle most updates.

If you download source and compile binaries, the bad news is that you need to keep those packages updated yourself; the good news is that you probably already know how to do that.

Smart Phones can also be configured to accept updates automatically.  Unless you specialize in phone maintenance, it's a good idea to let these devices keep themselves up-to-date.