Protecting against Malware and Spyware

What are Malware, Spyware, and Adware?

From Wikipedia: "malware, short for malicious software, is software designed to infiltrate a computer system without the owner's informed consent. The expression is a general term used by computer professionals to mean a variety of forms of hostile, intrusive, or annoying software or program code."

Adware is a type of program intended to force you to view ads or visit certain websites, while spyware programs attempt to monitor which sites you visit on the Internet. They may also attempt to steal passwords and credit card information.

The below tips will help protect your computer from spyware and adware. Windows users should also frequently run a spyware removal tool. Two free, quality anti-spyware programs for Windows-based computers are: Ad-Aware Free and Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware Free.

Note: Some Schools and organizations have specific recommendations or processes concerning privacy-invasion software. Faculty and staff should speak with their LSP if they have specific questions or concerns about any of the following practices.

Keep your operating system current with the latest patches and updates

Both Microsoft and Apple provide new security updates as necessary, and installing these updates will help protect your computer. When you receive notices to update, do so immediately. You should set up your computer to automatically check for and install updates.

Install Penn's supported antivirus software

Install the current version of Penn's supported antivirus software for your machine. You can download antivirus software from this website: Windows, OS X. Remember, out-of-date antivirus software may not detect or protect against new viruses. 

Keep your antivirus software updated on a regular basis

Although antivirus software at Penn is distributed to automatically check daily for updates, make sure your computer is configured to automatically update your virus definitions daily (Windows and Mac). Antivirus software vendors make easy-to-install updated virus definition files available regularly to combat new viruses. See Keep Antivirus Definitions Up-to-Date.

Exercise caution with email attachments

Do NOT open email attachments, even from senders you recognize, unless you are sure about the contents. Viruses often attach and are sent automatically via a sender's address book without the sender's knowledge. Thus, if you decide to open an attachment, be sure to scan it with anitvirus software.

Thwart email phishing attacks

Help thwart phishing attacks by never clicking on log-in links or information links in email purporting to be from your financial institution, PayPal, or eBay -- this includes email from legitimate service vendors. Instead, type the URL in the browser yourself.

Exercise caution accepting file downloads

Be wary of accepting file downloads from strangers in chat rooms or when using instant messenger programs. These are common ways of infecting your system and may give anyone on the Internet unrestricted access to your computer, all keystrokes that you type, and all of your data files.

Back up your work regularly

Keep backup copies of important papers, research projects, and other critical documents, and scan your backup files before using them.

Be familiar with your web browser's security and privacy features

Review the security and privacy features provided by Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer.

Note: Some Schools and organizations have specific recommendations or processes concerning privacy-invasion software. Faculty and staff should speak with their LSP if they have specific questions or concerns about any of the following practices.

Keep your operating system currrent with the latest patches and updates

Spyware creators are constantly changing their tactics to exploit systems. Remember, adware and spyware are installed in the background without your knowledge.

Keep your antivirus software updated on a regular basis

Antivirus software distributed at Penn is automatically configured to check for updated virus definitions daily.

Don't surf the web with an administrative user account

Instead, create an account for everyday use. For information on why you should not surf the web with an administrator account, see Penn's Don't Use Excessive Privileges on Your Computer .

Set your browser to block pop-up windows

Browser software distributed at Penn is automatically configured to disable pop-ups.  For instructions on how to configure your browser to allow pop-ups for selected websites (recognizing that some Penn websites require pop-ups), see Configuring your Web Browser to Allow Pop-Ups. If you seem to be getting an excessive amount of pop-ups, ask your LSP to take a look, there's a good chance there may be adware installed on your computer.

Don't install non-recommended spyware remover

Several of the common free spyware removal tools are, in fact, spyware themselves. Two free, quality anti-spyware programs for Windows are: Ad-Aware and Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware. (The free versions will require that you run scans manually -- there is no option to set automatic scanning).

Keep your web browser up to date

See the Supported Products website for the current browsers supported at Penn, and stay alert to vendor notices for web browser patches.

Read before you download

Read all security warnings, license agreements, and privacy statements associated with any software you download.

Only download programs and images from websites you trust

If unsure about a program or website, enter the name of the program into your favorite search engine to see if anyone else has reported that it contains spyware or ask your  LSP .

Never click "agree" or "OK" to close a window

Instead, click the red "x" in the corner of the window or press the Alt + F4 (Windows) or ⌘ W (Mac) on your keyboard to close a window.

Be wary of popular "free" music and movie file-sharing programs

Make sure you clearly understand all of the software packaged with those programs.

Be familiar with your browser's privacy and security settings for browsing the web

Review how your privacy and security settings for browsing the web:

  • Internet Explorer: From the Tools menu, select Internet Options > Security Level for this Zone panel > Select Medium-High or High. (IE users should always keep or set security for the Internet Zone to medium or higher).
  • Safari: From the Preferences menu, select Security.
  • Firefox: From the Tools menu, select Options > select the Privacy icon and the Security icon.

Set your browser to ask permission to accept any cookies

This may, however, be too intrusive. What's a cookie? See Wikipedia for a good explanation.

Periodically review and clear your browser's cache, cookies, and history

Each time you visit a web page through your browser, the browser caches or stores it. The cache allows your browser to download only the content that has changed since you last viewed a web page. A cookie is a file created on your computer at the request of a website you are visiting. Cookies store information such as your selections in a form, log-in data, and shopping cart contents. Cookies are usually set to expire from the browser at a certain date.

To clear your cache, cookies, and history manually, or configure your browser to empty the its cache automatically on closing:

  • Internet Explorer: Tools → Internet Options → General → Delete browsing history on exit. For more information, see Microsoft's How to delete cookie files in Internet Explorer. or Delete temporary Internet files (Windows 7 and 8).
  • Firefox: Tools → Options → Use Custom Settings for History → select the option Clear History When Firefox Closes → Settings → select Cache. For more information, see Firefox's How to clear the Cache.
  • Safari: Safari menu → Empty Cache.
  • Chrome: Chrome menu → Clear Browsing Data... → make sure that "the beginning of time" is selected and "Empty the cache" is checked → Clear browing data.
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Date Posted: March 14, 2013 Tags: Technical Info, Antivirus, Security, Provider Resource

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