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Basics for Safer Downloading

Data, IT Network Security

Author: jbrace@heartlandtechnologies.com

used with permission from Microsoft at Work

Whenever you download a file—whether you open a spreadsheet attached to an email message, grab a cool little screensaver or mouse cursor from the web, or download music or video files from someone else’s computer—you could be putting your computer at risk.
You can take some basic steps to protect your PC and your company’s network:

  • Set up your computer with security protection. When you upgrade to Windows 7 from Windows XP, you automatically get a lot of security protection built right into the system.
  • Increase your awareness of attack methods so that you can be on the lookout for them.
  • Use tools to remove unwanted software that has been downloaded to your computer (despite your best efforts to prevent it).

Here’s how:

1. Get ready: Strengthen your computer’s defenses

Start by checking with your system administrator to find out about your company’s security tools and policies. Read the articles Understanding security and safer computing and How to boost your malware defense and protect your PC to get an overview of the kinds of threats that exist and what you can do to defend against them. Because new threats are identified every day, remember to keep your security components—including those on the following list—up to date.

  • Firewalls. These include hardware or software that checks information coming from the Internet and either turns it away or lets it pass. Firewalls are built into Windows XP Service Pack 2 and all later versions of the Windows operating system.
  • Antivirus protection. Viruses, worms, and Trojan horses are programs that use the Internet to infect vulnerable computers. Microsoft Security Essentials offers free, real-time protection for your PC against malicious software. Or choose an antivirus program from a list of Microsoft partners who provide anti-malware software.
  • Spyware protection. Spyware can display ads and pop-ups, collect information, and change your computer settings or default home page without you knowing about it. Use Windows Defender, which is available as a free download for Windows XP Service Pack 2 and is built into later versions of Windows. Or install your own antispyware program.
  • Software updates. Regular updates to Windows help protect your computer against new viruses and other security threats. Be sure you’re using the latest version of your web browser, and turn on the browser’s security features.
  • Email spam filters. Microsoft Outlook includes a junk email filter, as do many other email programs, along with additional features that can help block unwanted messages, disable links, and warn you about threatening content.

2. Download with caution: Think first. Click later.

With your computer’s defenses strengthened, the rest is up to you. Here’s what you can do to protect your computer.

  • Beware of fraudulent email messages. Don’t click links or open attachments unless you’re sure of the source. In pop-up messages or warnings, click the (close box) instead of OK or Agree to get rid of the box.
  • Only download from reputable sites. Be cautious about downloading from unknown sources and from sites containing objectionable material or too-good-to be-true offers. Microsoft Download Center, for example, is the best, safest source for Microsoft products. Bookmark it in your browser’s favorites, and check it out to find the most popular downloads, free trials, and newest software available from us.
  • Install and use file-sharing programs cautiously. When you use file-sharing programs to trade music, video, or other files on the web, you make some of your files—or even your entire hard disk drive—available to others using similar software.
  • Save files for safer downloads. If you’ve decided to download a file from the Internet, save the file first to your hard drive. Then, when you attempt to open the file, your antivirus software can check the file and delete it if it detects potentially damaging code. To do this, in the File Download dialog box, click the Save button instead of the Run or Open button.

3. Remove malicious software

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may download a program you don’t want. If this happens to you, here are some ways to get rid of it:

  • Run antispyware tools. Windows Defender, which is built into Windows Vista and Windows 7, reduces the likelihood of downloading spyware in the first place. If you are using another antispyware program, make sure it is up to date and then scan your system, following the instructions for removing suspicious software.
  • Run the malicious software removal tool. Users of earlier versions of Windows who suspect that malware is causing their computers to slow down or fail can use the Malicious Software Removal Tool to remove the malware.
  • Disable add-ons. Web browser add-ons can display things like toolbars and stock tickers but can also install spyware or other malicious software. In Internet Explorer, you can disable add-ons from the Tools menu. Click Manage Add-ons, select the one you want to disable, and then click Disable.

Due to the changing nature of potential attacks, preventing malicious software from damaging your computer takes continuous vigilance. However, by installing and updating protection tools and by using caution when you work, you can help minimize the risk.


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