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Should you shut down your computer at night?

As long as humanity has existed we’ve pondered various conundrums…the chicken or the egg? … Regular or decaf? … Why are we here? … Should I turn my computer off at night or leave it on? Well, we’re not going to attempt the first three, there are plenty of new age blogs all over the internet that can help you out with those. But we will talk about the computer on vs. off at night debate.  Let’s have a look at both sides so you can decide what’s best for you.

But my computer will wear out faster!

…Say people on both sides of the issue. Some folks argue that shutting your computer down and starting it back up frequently has a negative impact on components, making them wear out more quickly. On the other hand, those on the other side of the fence argue that leaving your computer on all the time will also contribute to premature component wear.

So who’s right? Off or on?

The answer is…(drumroll)…it depends.

Yes I know, that’s possibly the most anti-climactic answer in the history of answers. But read on and find out why.

How often do you use your computer?

Whether to shut your computer off or keep it on largely depends on how often you use it. If you use it several times during the day, or in the morning and then again at night, leave it on. If you use your computer for only a few hours once a day, or less often, turn it off when you’re done.

You definitely don’t want to be shutting it down and restarting it several times a day. Leaving the computer on all the time is less stressful than turning it on and off several times a day, but it’s a constant stress.  Every single time a computer powers on there is a small surge of power as everything awakes, and if it’s done multiple times during the day, then things will wear out faster.

Some components have a limited life cycle, so they do benefit from shutting your computer off now and then. For example, an LCD panel is built to last for about 15,000 hours, so letting it time out will extend its life. The hard drive and battery also have limited life cycles, and will benefit from occasional shut downs.

The best reasons to leave it on – or turn it off

The original concept that frequent shut downs and start-ups have a negative impact on your computer is a bit dated, because the components that were thought to incur extra stress are not used in more modern systems. But there are still several good reasons to leave your computer on. They are:

  • You want to be able to remotely access your PC because you’re using it as a server
  • You don’t want to wait for it to start up
  • There are updates, virus scans, or other things you’d like to run while you’re away

And now let’s hear from the “turn it off” camp:

  • Leaving it on wastes electricity and can slightly increase your power bill
  • You don’t want to have to deal with notifications or fan noise
  • Computer performance benefits from the occasional reboot

Sleep or Hibernate?

Putting your computer in sleep mode is the meet-in-the-middle solution. Sleep mode puts your computer in to a low power state without turning it completely off. You can save a lot of power without putting added stress on your system.

In Hibernation mode your computer stops using power, then resumes where it was prior to being put in that mode. It’s the less desirable of the two because it produces wear and tear similar to shutting it down and restarting it.

Other ways to help your computer’s lifespan

There are other things you can do to extend the life of your computer as well. For one, always use a surge protector. For the best lifespan get a universal power supply (UPS), which is in essence a battery backed up surge protector. Surge protectors help to even out the power to your system, preventing power spikes that can lower the lifespan of your computer’s components.

You can also help your computer last longer by keeping it clean. Inside and out. On the inside periodically check your software, and uninstall old software you don’t use, and clean up old files and processes as well. On the outside, open that baby up to clean out old dust and debris so your computer can breathe properly.

So which is it?

To reiterate – if you use your computer frequently, it’s best to leave it on, at least all day. If you use it in the morning and the evening, then leave it on overnight as well.

If you use your computer less often, such as for only a short time during the day, or less, then turn it off when you’re done.

 

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Do I need more than one antivirus program?

Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how quickly and thoroughly malware or a computer virus can take over your computer and wreak havoc.  And those despicable people who create them are getting savvier and more inventive every day. You need strong protection to make sure your device isn’t attacked. There are many good antivirus programs out there, but you may be wondering if you can (and should) have more than one on your computer.

The answer is no. One antivirus program is good, but you may still have vulnerabilities in your system. You need more than one good guy on your side fighting to keep the bad guys at bay.

Why do I need more than one?

The malware landscape has changed tremendously in the past decade, and the old way of eliminating it is no longer enough. What has changed? Glad you asked.

  1. It’s easier than ever to become infected – It used to be that you could simply avoid picking up a virus by avoiding clicking on suspicious links or staying away from bad sites. This isn’t the case anymore. They have come up with new attacks and new weapons; malvertising for instance. In such an attack a legitimate site unknowingly gets malicious content from an infected site, and that content seeks ways to install itself on your computer. They are sometimes referred to as “drive-by downloads”. You can get infected by simply visiting the wrong site at the wrong time. Scary.
  2. Malware is everywhere – Software products such as Java and Flash, and many others, were created during a time when computer security wasn’t such a huge concern. Threats like exploits are proliferating online. Exploits is software, data, or commands that ‘exploit’ a weakness in a computer system or program to carry out some type of malicious intent. Some examples of exploits are denial of service attacks, Trojan horses, worms, or viruses. What is really frightening about exploit based software is that the average time between the initial infection and detection is almost a year.
  3. Response times to new threats from traditional antivirus programs are too slow – According to research from Panda Research, traditional antivirus programs only stop between 30 and 50 percent of new zero-hour malware when it first appears. Some take up to eight hours to reach the 90 percent level, with the majority needing a full 24 hours. Then it takes them seven days to get into the high 90% level. This is an eternity to go without adequate protection.

A couple examples – Let’s say someone in China or a hacker makes a never before seen, totally custom virus. It’s then sent to one system in an obscure place rather than blanketing the internet with it and allowing McAfee to stumble upon it quickly. Do you think that McAfee will find it and then send out a signature file for the rest of the world to protect itself? Unlikely.

It’s also known that many heavy hitters in Antivirus software will white list (i.e. ignore) some malware for law enforcement or other intelligence agencies (FYI this includes private companies). So you might have a keylogger, Remote Access Tool, or other malware on your machine that your antivirus program is allowing. Feel dirty yet?

Do I run them all at once to really disinfect my computer?

You don’t want to get a bunch of antivirus programs and then run them all at the same time. Antivirus programs don’t work well together, and running two at the same time may lead to one identifying the other as a virus. In some extreme cases it might even cause file corruption. Besides, running to apps at once will eat up your system resources.

It’s best to take a layered approach when it comes to antivirus protection. Think of it as locking your doors, and also having an alarm. Both systems work to keep you protected, but they work in different ways.

When you use the layered approach you spread out your antivirus resources in order to more effectively combat malware. Each program has its own strengths and does its own things.

First, you need a good traditional antivirus program. This will make an initial sweep of your computer and remove all known threats. After performing a traditional system scan and fixing any issues it finds, then use a good complementary software like Malwarebytes. Malwarebytes is designed to work with traditional antivirus programs. It is a lightweight (and free) product that works well to block threats that your antivirus program misses.

Then add a third layer like CCleaner. CCleaner will also take a complementary approach and work well with the other two programs, as long as you run them in sequence rather than all at once. When used together these programs will help keep your computer malware free and safe from attack. But do remember the basic rules of avoiding these issues in the first place. They are:

Don’t install anything you didn’t specifically request

Keep your antivirus software up to date

If you’re not using a piece of software anymore, uninstall it

It’s a crazy world out there, make sure you’re protected!

 

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The Best Free Antivirus Programs

There is no debating the fact that you need antivirus protection on your computer. Without it you risk picking up a virus, malware, or other unwanted software on your device. But you don’t have to spend a fortune to get protection. In fact, you don’t have to spend anything. These free antivirus programs can provide you with all the protection you need.

Keep in mind though,  many of these free programs exist because they are advertisements for bigger, more comprehensive programs. But for the average user, the free versions will be plenty. The free programs listed below will help you detect and eliminate any potential threats.

  1. Avira Free Antivirus – Avira consistently lands at the top of free antivirus lists, and for good reason. It has only very slightly less protection than heavy hitters like AVG, and it comes in a slick, clean package that is also easy on your system. It doesn’t slow your computer down and it’s not in your face every two minutes when you’re online. Avira doesn’t install other things like a VPN or safesearch plugin by default, although it’s available should you choose it.
  2. AVG AntiVirus Free – AVG’s free version scored at 100% for protection in independent tests, so you can be sure your device is safe if you’re using it. It’s also quick to scan and very easy to use. You can even set it to scan and clean out a device without having to be near it, thanks to the mobile app. There are only a couple things to be wary of – for one, this version is essentially an advertisement for the full, paid package. This can be slightly annoying, but the protection you get with the free version will be more than sufficient for most people. It also asks for a host of permissions on the AVG Web Tune Up extension, but fortunately this is an optional part and doesn’t need to be used.
  3. Comodo Free Antivirus – This software features a ‘default deny’ mode, which basically will block every single program that you haven’t white listed. So if you have it running and something gets through and infects your computer, you have only yourself to blame. It has cloud scanning, so in theory it keeps up with the latest threats out there and will automatically update users with that info. It scored very high in independent testing. It’s design can be a bit daunting, opening window after window on your device, so you’ll never forget that it’s there. One perk – it includes a game mode, so when you need max performance you can scale the program back.
  4. Panda Free Antivirus 2016 – Panda claims to be the world’s lightest antivirus because most of the processing work is done in the cloud rather than on your computer, but it scored a bit slower than Avira in some tests. It’s at the industry average when it comes to virus detection, at about 98%. Panda is good software, just remember to deny it permission to change your browser’s home page and search engine when you install it. It scans quickly, and is user friendly enough that it’s not intimidating to the average user. You can switch on its automatic USB vaccination to make sure you don’t get an infection when you insert something into your USB ports.
  5. Zone Alarm Free Antivirus + Firewall – Zone Alarm was the leading free firewall back in the internet’s early days. So it’s no surprise that this free software includes a firewall by default. This is a rare feature, and a big benefit to you. It’s easy to configure and will show you data on traffic coming to and from your computer. But fair warning – seeing what it deflects might be unnerving. If you want a firewall along with your antivirus protection be sure to give Zone Alarm a look.
  6. Immunet AntiVirus – Immunet is unique in that it is exclusively cloud based, and it’s designed to run either independently, or alongside your existing antivirus software. Because Immunet has yet to go through comprehensive testing, it’s probably best to use it side-by-side with another software. It is, however, a great complement to other programs, and it’s worth trying out. And the longer it’s out there, and the more it’s used and receiving feedback, the stronger its protection will get. It doesn’t noticeably slow down your computer. But design lovers be warned – it’s not a pretty program to look at.
  7. Qihoo 360 Total Security Essentials – Qihoo uses third party engines to scan your device. Both Bitdefender and Avira are there, plus 360 provides a couple of its own engines on top of them. Because it’s such a big package, it eats more system resources than the other software packages we’ve recommended, but it passed independent tests with fantastic scores. Avira on its own is a bit simpler and just as effective though, so if you’re looking for simplicity stick with Avira.

There you have it. Any of these free antvirus software packages can help protect your computer from all the nasty programs out there just waiting to take over your machine.

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All about Malwarebytes

Do a search for effective antivirus protection, and chances are you’ll run across someone discussing Malwarebytes. This is because it’s a very popular malware fighter, and it’s extremely effective. Millions of people have downloaded Malwarebytes, making it one of the most popular antimalware downloads around, comparable to AVG and Avast. It’s been around for nine years, and now boasts over 100 million downloads and 5 billion pieces of malware removed. Let’s go through what makes it so good, and some of its potential weaknesses.

In an extremely competitive market, Malwarebytes has established itself as a capable of going against the heavy hitters in the industry. Malwarebytes scans quickly, can fight malware that tries to block it from running, and is not filled with unnecessary extra features.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware does a fantastic job of untangling and destroying offending programs that can write themselves into registries and the actively mask themselves. If you have an infected machine, performing a once over with Malwarebytes will more than likely remove the malicious software. This can result in a noticeable improvement in your computer’s performance. Keep in mind though, no anti-malware software is going to be able to find and destroy 100 percent of malicious code 100 percent of the time on an extremely infected machine, so there is a change that Malwarebytes (and other software for that matter) won’t remove everything from an already infected device.

Malwarebytes plays well with others (other software that is)

One great feature of Malwarebytes is that it is designed to work in tandem with other antivirus programs. So if your device has been hijacked by several malicious programs, you can run Malwarebytes along with other programs you have installed when you attempt to remove all of the infections.  Malwarebytes stands apart in this respect, as not all antivirus software systems work well with each other.

One thing to be aware of – major third party tests have not been conducted yet for the most current version of Malwarebytes. In addition, it does not have many tools specifically designed to protect you while you’re interacting online using chat features or social media. According to the developers, independent testing is lacking for Malwarebytes because it doesn’t exist to be a comprehensive anti-virus program. It’s focus is on the newest and most subtle online threads that other, more traditional security programs miss.

How does it work?

Malwarebytes is easy to install. If you want the free version, their Free Version Download button is displayed conspicuously on the company website. When you click on it you’ll be led directly to the download page. This is a refreshing change from many antivirus companies that redirect you to third party sites to obtain the free versions of their product.

Once the installer is downloaded, installation is simple. But note, in the last stage of the set up the option to “enable free trial of Malwarebytes Anti Malware Premium” is checked by default. Uncheck it if you know you’ll want to stick with the free version only.

The paid version will let you schedule scans; the paid version does not. If you opt for the free version you’ll have to manually open the program and click the Scan button when you want to check for malware.

When it’s finished scanning it will list the suspicious items it detected, and ask if you’d like to quarantine them, ignore them, or exclude them from future scans. Most likely you’ll choose quarantine – this puts them in a safe area of the computer that Malwarebytes controls. If you decide later that something is not malicious, you can go to the History tab and select individual items. You can then permanently delete them from quarantine as well.

Not all features are available on the free edition, but most users will be just fine using it rather than the paid version. Malwarebytes Free doesn’t have a quick scan option, or automatic updates, but there are some tools that you can access on their website that are helpful.

Tools available on the free version

  • Chameleon – This is a countermeasure against malware that tries to disable anti malware programs on the computers they have infected. Chameleon disguises Malwarebytes so that these malicious programs can’t locate it.
  • Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit – This is a tool that monitors for attacks that enter through software flaws rather than malware.
  • Start Up Lite – This tool helps speed up your computer on start up by disabling extra programs.
  • File ASSASSIN – A tool that lets you delete files on your computer that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to delete, like locked files or files used by other programs
  • RegASSASSIN – It can remove registry keys from your computer that are often used by advanced malware.

Remember, Malwarebytes should not be your only antivirus protection, but it’s great to have when disaster strikes, and to help you avoid disaster in the first place. It’s meant to complement your traditional antivirus software, not replace it.

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What is CCleaner?

If you’ve done even a small amount of research, chances are you’ve heard about CCleaner. It’s very widely recommended both online and offline. You may be asking yourself, should you use it? And how often do I need to run it?

CCleaner primarily does two things. It erases personal data such as your browsing history, and lists of recently opened files in varioius programs, and it scans and deletes unnecessary files, freeing up disk space.

It’s a Disk Cleanup tool

You might be wondering why you would need a program to free up disk space – after all, Windows includes a disk cleanup tool. The Windows tool frees up space on your hard drive by deleting things such as temporary internet files and error report logs. This tool can be used any time you want to free up some space on your hard drive.

So what makes CCleaner better? Well, Windows Disk Cleanup could go farther. For instance, it deletes Explorer’s cache files, but it won’t delete cache files for other browsers like Firefox and Chrome. On the other hand, CCleaner does. It also takes disk cleanup a step further by extending its reach to more data in Windows and some third party programs that Windows Disk Cleanup doesn’t find.

CCleaner makes the process easy. Simply select the types of data you want deleted, click “Analyze” and take a look at the data CCleaner will delete. If you’re comfortable with the data then click the “Run Cleaner” button and it will delete the selected files. One nice feature is that CCleaner remembers your choices the next time you open it, so on future scans you won’t have to start from scratch.

It can delete your personal information

As we mentioned in the beginning, CCleaner’s main functions are to free up disk space, and clear out private data. CCleaner will erase your cookies, browser history, and cache files for any browsers you use, including Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. It will even go a step further and clear out the cookie data stored by the Flash Player. If that wasn’t enough, it will also erase other potentially damaging data like lists of recently opened file names in Adobe Reader, Microsoft Word, Windows Media Player, and other well-known applications.

CCleaner’s default settings clear out all this data without you needing to customize it. It’s like having a tool on your side that deletes your history throughout your computer, rather than just your Internet Explorer browsing history. It doesn’t get every single program (no tool out there does), but it goes much farther than the Windows Disk Cleanup tool to keep your private information safe.

 

Since it does all these cool things, should I run CCleaner every day?

You can certainly use CCleaner every day, running it using the default settings. But before you do, it’s possible that it could slow your computer down over time. It does this because CCleaner is set up to delete your browser’s cache files by default.

What is a cache file, you ask? They are bits of web pages – images, stylesheets, HTML files, scripts…the list goes on. Your browser holds on to these bits. For example, if you pull up Target’s website, your computer downloads small bits of information, such as the Target logo. That way, as you navigate from page to page, your browser doesn’t have to download the logo over and over, it just loads the file from its cache. This speeds up pages loading, because your browser doesn’t have to load the same information over and over. Your browser is constantly doing this, with many different bits of information.

So think about it – if you’re constantly clearing your browser’s cache, you’re forcing it to re-download the same files each day. From a performance standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to clear out your cache so often, because you can’t reap the benefits that having a cache offers. That is, speeding up your web page loading.

On the flip side, your cache can also be a privacy concern. If someone were to access your browser’s cache files, they could look at websites you’ve been frequenting, as well as your browser history. (Side note: This is why private browsing mode exists, it doesn’t save cache files when you’re using it.)

If you’d still like to run CCleaner on a regular basis, and aren’t worried about people snooping in your browser history, make sure to disable the Internet Cache-clearing options.

What should I clean?

If you decide to use CCleaner, you can select what types of data you want to remove from the Cleaner tab. The Windows section has options for cleaning data with Windows, and the Application section contains cleaning options for any third party applications that you have installed. If you want to stop CCleaner from clearing your browser’s cache, then you’ll want to go to the Applications tab to access and disable it. CCleaner will also wipe out your website logins if you have it clear cookies, forcing you to log into the same websites over and over. Disable this feature to avoid that problem.

CCleaner is the best application deleting usage data and temporary files. All computer users can benefit from using it.

 

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Why is my computer running so slowly

Have you noticed your computer is running more slowly than usual? This isn’t an inevitable part of computer ownership. Let’s look at some reasons why your computer might be slowing down, and how you can fix it.

  • Check your system tray programs – Some applications run in the system tray, or notification area. They typically launch at start up, then stay running in the background, remaining hidden behind the up arrow icon at the bottom right corner of your monitor. Click that arrow near the system tray, and right click any applications you don’t want running. Close them and you’ll free up your computer’s resources.
  • Locate programs that are eating up your resources – When your computer runs slowly it’s because something is using up its resources. For instance, one runaway program may be taking up 90% of your CPU resources. An app might be using a large amount of memory, or an app might be using the disk a lot, which would cause other applications to slow down when they need to save something to the disk. Open the Task Manager to check this. Right click on the taskbar and select “Task Manager” to open it. Click “CPU”, “Memory”, and “Disk” headers to sort the lists by the applications using the more resources. If an app is using too much, close it normally. If you can’t then select it there and click “End Task” to force it to close.
  • Disable start up programs – Rather than go through ending tasks after you’re up and running, go to the source and stop those applications from starting in the first place. On Windows there is now a startup manager in Task Manager that allows you to manage your startup programs. Go to the Startup tab in Task manager and disable the programs you don’t need. Windows should tell you which applications are slowing down your startup process. Free programs like CCleaner can also help you manage your start up programs.
  • Malware and Adware – Malicious software is a big reason that many computers start performing slowly. It may not even be malware, it might just be software that tracks your web browsing so it can send you additional advertisements. This is annoying, and a potential threat. Scan your computer using a good, reputable antivirus program, then follow that up by scanning with Malwarebytes (a program designed to run alongside your main antivirus software). Malwarebytes has a great reputation for catching a lot of “potentially unwanted programs” (PUPs), that many antivirus programs will ignore. They sneak onto your computer when you’re installing other software, and you definitely don’t want them hanging around. They may not all be dangerous, but they will certainly slow your computer down.
  • Your web browser – It’s a safe bet that you use your web browser a lot, and the browser itself may be slow. To help this, use as few browser extensions or add-ons as possible. They can slow down your browser big time and cause it to use more memory. To fix this go into your web browser’s Extensions or Add-Ons manager and remove the add-ons you don’t want. It’s also worth considering enabling ‘click-to-play’ plugins. If you enable the plugin then Flash and other content won’t automatically open when you open a web page; it gives you a choice whether to download it or not. This conserves bandwidth, improves page load times, reduces CPU usage, and can even extend battery life on your laptop.
  • Get rid of programs you don’t use – Chances are you have programs installed on your computer that you never use. They can be taking up space and slowing your computer down, so go in and uninstall those programs. To do this, open the Control Panel from your Start menu and find the list of installed programs. Find the ones you don’t want or need and uninstall them. This can really help speed up your computer, as some of these programs might be running background processes, system services, autostart entries, and context menu entries, among other things. Deleting these unused programs will save room on your hard drive and improve system security.
  • When all else fails…reset your PC or reinstall windows – If you’ve tried all the tips I’ve presented here already and you’re still having problems, there is one more thing you can try – get a fresh and clean Windows installation. This has gotten much easier with Windows 8, 8.1 and 10. It used to be you had to get Windows installation media to reinstall Windows. No more. Now you can simply use the “Reset your PC” feature that’s built into Windows and get a brand spanking new Windows system. This is very similar to the prior reinstall of Windows and will wipe your installed programs and system settings while keeping your files.

As you can see, there are many reasons that a computer might slow down. It might be only one of these things, or a little bit of them all. Use these tips, and hopefully you can get your computer running like the day you brought it home.

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What’s the Difference Between Malware and Viruses?

When it comes to security threats on your computer, so many terms are thrown around these days. Malware, virus, spyware, ransomware…it can make your head spin! What is the difference between them? That’s what we’re here to discuss today, so sit down and be ready to learn more about the seedy world of internet threats.

Viruses

Just like a cold or flu virus spreads through your body, infecting it’s cells and recruiting them to replicate the virus, so a computer virus spreads it’s code into an unsuspecting, innocent program and turns it into a virus replicating machine. It then can spread from your computer to others, just like our friend the common cold. The term computer virus is used loosely, though there are many types of threats out there now that work a little differently.

A virus takes hold when a user launches a program that’s infected. They tend to keep a low profile at first, so that it can spread without being detected. In most cases the virus code infects new programs, then eventually kicks in, wreaking havoc on your system. Typically it kicks in at a predetermined day at time that was set when the virus code was written. In the early days, viruses were often mindlessly destructive, but today they are more likely to try and steal your personal information.

Trojans

Named for the Greek army that sacked the people of Troy by hiding in the infamous wooden horse, Trojan programs hide malicious code with a seemingly helpful application. Usually a Trojan program hides in a game, utility, or some other applications that performs as it should, but after a while it does something harmful. Trojans are spread when users or websites inadvertently share it with others, not realizing it’s there.

Worms

Worms act very similarly to viruses, however they don’t require the user to launch the program. A worm copies itself to another computer, then runs that copy. What makes it different from a virus is that it self-replicates. In other words, it doesn’t need a human to guide it, and it doesn’t have to latch on to another computer program. This is what makes them so potentially harmful, as they can cause significant damage if they replicate out of control. A worm penetrates the system with a goal of spreading malicious code. Worms use networks to send copies of the original code to other computers. They cause damage by consuming bandwidth, deleting files, or sending documents via email. They can also install backdoors on computers.

Adware

Adware is advertising supported software. The software sends advertisements for the purpose of making money for the person who authored it. Adware is designed to track which internet sites the user visits frequently, then presents related advertisements. While not all adware is intended to be malicious, it’s nonetheless an issue because it affects computer performance. Plus it’s just annoying.

Spyware

Spyware, as its name suggests, spies on you and tracks your internet activities. It aids the hacker by giving them information about your system, without your consent. Spyware is usually hidden from its host, and can be extremely difficult to detect. Some spyware, like keyloggers (software that tracks and logs keys struck on your keyboard), are intentionally installed within an organization to track employee activities.

Ransomware

Ransomware  is an advanced type of malware that restricts access to your computer system until you pay a fee. You might be innocently working on your computer when a pop up invades, warning you that you’ve been locked out of your computer until you pay a fee to the cyber criminal that launched the program. Once you pay then the restriction is removed. Ransomware is increasingly becoming a problem for computer users, however, it is not as common as the others because it requires that the perpetrator stay visible enough to get payment.

Rootkit

Rootkit technology digs into your operating system to hide a malicious program. When an installed security program asks Windows for a list of infected files, it removes its own files from the list. It can also hide entries in the Registry.

Bots

While a bot infestation doesn’t actively harm your computer, it can assist in harming other computers. The installed bot hides itself until the owner of the bot broadcasts a command. Then the bot, with hundreds, or even thousands, of others, does whatever it’s told to do. Bots are like an army of zombie computers, doing whatever is asked of them. Scary. They are most often used to send spam, so the spammer can avoid being traced.

 

As you can see, there are many ways that a nefarious individual can attack your computer. It’s important that you have effective anti-virus protection to ensure that your personal information and data stays safe. With the right protection you can avoid these pitfalls and navigate the web safely.

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The best anti-virus programs

Let’s face it, it is of the utmost importance that you have good anti-virus protection on your computer or tablet. The web is fraught with all sorts of threats, from viruses to malware, and it’s dangerous to go out there unprotected. While Windows 10 has a built in anti-virus, it’s probably not a good idea to rely on that alone. Windows Defender has a history of poor performance when put to the test. It is certainly better than nothing, but to ensure that you are completely protected we recommend using an additional product.

Before we dive in, let me point out that you’re much more likely to be attacked by malware than an actual virus. This is because there is more money to be made from ransomware and Trojans that steal data than from spreading a virus that disables your computer.  The ten anti-virus programs listed below are all full-scale tools that protect you from attacks and allow you to scan for malware either on demand, or at a scheduled time. Here are some of the top rated anti-virus programs available, in no particular order.

  1. McAfee AntiVirus Plus (2016) – You can’t go wrong with McAfee Anti-Virus Plus. Not only does it score highly in independent lab tests, it also comes with many bonus features. It is fantastic at blocking malicious URL’s and has outstanding antiphishing protection. But the thing that puts it at the top is the fact that one subscription allows you to install protection on every Windows, Mac OS, Android, and iOS device that you own. One thing to keep in mind though, it does offer little support for Mac, and even less for iOS.
  2. Webroot SecureAnywhere Anti-Virus (2016) – Webroot SecureAnywhere Anti-Virus is the smallest and fastest anti-virus available, and it consistently comes in at the top on malware blocking tests, although fewer independent lab tests have been performed on it than competing software. Webroot has the ability to recover files encrypted by ransomware. Best of all, it uses a very small amount of disc space, and includes a firewall.
  3. Bitdefender Anti-Virus Plus 2017 – Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017 has so many bonus features that it could arguably be considered a security suite. Combine that with top-scoring anti-virus protection, and you have a winner on your hands.
  4. Avast Pro Anti-Virus 2016 – The paid version of Avast Pro Anti-Virus provides the same excellent protection that’s found in their free edition, with added features like a hardened browser, sandboxing, and DNS protection. These advanced features put it at the top of most anti-virus lists, but if you’re on a budget don’t fret – the free edition works great for the average user.
  5. Symantec Norton Anti-Virus Basic – Symantec’s stand-alone antivirus protection is back after a few year break. It consistently earned top scores in independent lab tests.
  6. Emsisoft Anti-Malware 11.0 – This anti-malware software gets very good scores on independent lab tests for blocking malware and malicious URL’s.
  7. ESET NOD32 Antivirus 9 – ESET NOD32 Antivirus 9 is an improved version from the company’s previous one, and it scores very well in most independent lab tests. It stands out because of its antiphishing and malicious URL blocking capabilities.
  8. F-Secure Anti-Virus 2016 – F-Secure Antivirus 2016 works specifically with malware protection. It can be installed on both Mac OS and Windows devices, and it does a good job of protecting you from malware attacks.
  9. Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security (2017) – Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security came in with high scores on many independent lab tests, though not all. The latest version boasts ransomware protection, which is critical, because this malicious software is becoming more of a problem as time goes on. Ransomware typically encrypts your essential documents, then demands you pay to get the decryption key. The Folder Shield feature on this software prevents these attacks, protecting your Documents folder.
  10. Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2017 – Kaspersky Antivirus consistently earns the highest ratings in independent lab tests. It also includes plenty of bonus features, and it works quickly.

Which of these is the best for me?

With so many options it’s difficult to know which one is best for you. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus and Kaspersky Antivirus are usually the top rated programs in independent lab tests, so they are a good place to start. Only one subscription for McAfee Antivirus Plus lets you protect all of your devices, so if you have a lot of devices you’d like to protect, you’ll get more bang for your buck with McAfee. Keep in mind there are many other antivirus software programs out there, many of them just as good as the ones listed here. In the name of helping you narrow it down though, we’ve only included 10. Keep an eye out for more comprehensive reviews of these and other products, we’ll be adding them on the blog very soon.

 

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Google Redirect Virus Removal

Google Redirect Virus Removal

Have you ever noticed your web browser redirect to what looks like Google’s home page? If so you might have the Google redirect virus. This article will tell you how to recognize it and remove it.

What is the Google redirect virus?

The first thing you need to know is that there is no single “Google redirect virus”. It’s a term that includes many types of malware and viruses that redirect your web browser to Google.com, or something that looks like Google. If you’ve ever gone online and found that your browser mysteriously changes to a Google search page, or the default search engine in your browser’s search bar has changed, then you’re likely the target of the Google redirect virus.

Why would someone create a virus like this, you ask? The short answer: to make money. Unfortunately, the people who create this software do it because they want to make money via Google search, or another search engine.  You know those ads that appear every time you conduct a Google search? Yep, those searches generate revenue for Google. And for those who create the software and hijack your browser.

Keep in mind, legitimate websites can use Google Custom Search to enhance searching on their own website, and to bring in a little extra cash. So if you search a site and see Google ads in your results, they are probably using Google Custom Search, not a redirect virus. Other browsers such as Firefox also use similar things to generate revenue.

Basically, Google redirect malware uses this function to direct your browser to a custom search page, which generates small amounts a money every time you use that page and ads are shown. These very annoying search toolbars and pages, like Babylon and Delta go an extra step and build legitimate search engine functionality into their own dubious “search engines” by delivering ads they sell themselves. It’s generally for low quality products, using low brow ads.

Because they make money every time you search, the malware tries to force you to use the search engine as often as possible. They’ll change the default, managed, and provided search engines, and change your home pages. You might even notice your computer’s browser shortcuts and Windows host files are manipulated without your  conscious permission…you may have clicked a License Agreement when you were trying to install what looked like an unrelated, legitimate software. They can be that sneaky.

It’s never a good idea to have software on your computer or tablet that you don’t know about. It can be more than just annoying; some versions of the Google redirect virus can be used to collect your data, which is then used as a sales lead for other questionable sites. Your passwords, account names, and other personal information may not be safe. You just don’t know what you’re getting into when you click on a link from an infected site. Get it out of your life, now.

How to Remove the Google Redirect Virus

There are several things you can do to remove unwanted browser toolbars. It’s recommended you try them all. It’s best to follow them in the order that is set here. If you only do one thing, make it a virus scan, because that should root out any further infections. However to completely resolve the irksome issues that brought you to this article, you will need to at least change your browser settings and remove the unwanted extensions and toolbars.

Step One: Scan and remove malware

Let’s assume you have an up-to-date antivirus, antispyware, and firewall. If you don’t, it’s time to get it. Stat. There are several tools that work well, do your research and find one that you like.

Obviously though, having up to date security software is not enough. The Google redirect virus has gotten past your computer’s best defenses. So…once you have the correct software installed, you’ve scanned for malware and removed anything that was found, do a second sweep. This is not as easy as installing a second antivirus or security suite. These programs are not designed to run concurrently and many times will incorrectly identify the other security software as malware. Instead, we recommend using Malwarebyte’s Anti-Malware Free, which is free software specifically designed to run as a second virus scan. So after running your virus scan, install Malwarebytes and run a second scan to ensure the infection is removed.

Step Two: Remove browser add-ons, toolbars, and extensions


Internet Explorer: Open Explorer and click the cog wheel at the top right and click “manage add-ons”. The toolbars and extensions tab opens by default, so locate the Toolbar you want to delete and click the trash icon.

Firefox: Open Mozilla Firefox, open the menu bar and select Add-Ons. Browse or search the Extensions and Plugin lists for any unwanted toolbars. Remove or disable any undesired toolbars.

Google Chrome: Open Chrome. In the top right hand corner click the icon that looks like three horizontal bars. Select Settings, then click on Extensions. Disable or delete the unwanted toolbars.

 

Step Three: Manually change home page(s)

If the virus changed your browser’s home page to the Google search page, and you didn’t want that, you will need to manually change it back.

Internet Explorer: Open Explorer and go to Tools, Internet Options. Type in the website you want to use for your home page in the home page field and click OK.

Google Chrome: Click the icon in the top right hand corner of the screen that looks like three short horizontal bars. Go to Settings, then scroll down to “On start-up” and make sure “open a set of specific pages” is enabled. Then click “set pages” and type in your desired home page.

Firefox: Click the Firefox tab in the top left hand corner of the window. Choose Options, then select General, and check that next to “When Firefox Starts:” the option selected is “Show my home page”. Then in the home page field type in your desired home page.

Step Four: Manually change default browser and remove unwanted search engines

Internet Explorer 10: Click the gear icon in the top right corner of the browser (it looks like a cog). Scroll down and select “manage add-ons”, then choose “select search providers”. A list will appear of the search providers currently installed on your browser in a list. The default will be marked as such. To change search engines, click on the one you want to move and hit “move up” or “move down”, just below the middle of the window on the right side. This is also how you change the default. Select the one you want and click “set as default”.

Firefox: The search bar is the smaller input field to the right of the main address bar at the top right corner of your browser window. Look at the icon in the left corner of the search bar. If it’s the search engine you want to use, then you don’t need to do anything. But if you want to change it, click the little arrow next to the symbol and a drop down menu will appear with all the installed search engines. To change the default scroll to the bottom to “manage search engines”. Click it. The search engine at the top is the current default. Highlight the desired search engine and use “move up” and “move down” to rearrange the order. To remove a search engine completely, highlight it and click “remove”.

Google Chrome: Open Chrome, and in the top right click the three horizontal bar icon then go to Settings. In the “search” section, select the desired search engine from the drop down menu.

Step Five: Repair browser settings

Your web browsers should now be back to where you want them, but it’s always a good idea to make sure. Install the free CCleaner utility. Go to Cleaner, Windows/Applications. Click Analyze, and then when the analysis is complete click the Run Cleaner button. Go to Tools, Startup, and search through each tab. Click Disable and Delete for any entry that includes “search” in the title or file name.

Step Six: Repair Windows host file and reset proxy settings

At this point the Google redirect virus should be out of your life. However if you want to be extra careful it’s recommended you complete the following tasks as well. Before we proceed let’s be clear – if you feel like you’re in over your head here, leave it to the experts.

First – Repair the Windows host file. You can open MS Notepad with administrator privileges by right clicking Notepad and clicking Run as Administrator. Next, open the Hosts file. It’s found here: C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts. Before you do anything else, copy the whole file and paste it to another text document that you then save on your desktop, with the same file name as the Hosts file. That way if the changes you make mess anything up, you can replace the Hosts file with the saved document.

Delete any entries that look anything like this: 000.00.00.00 botcrawl.com or 000.00.00.00 google.com. They will appear as additions at the bottom of the file. Resave the Hosts file.

Now we’ll repair the browser’s proxy settings to that the Google redirect virus can’t hijack your browser.

Internet Explorer: Go to Tools, Internet Options. Click the Connections tab, select Local Area Network (LAN) Settings and unselect everything, then click OK.

Google Chrome: Go to Google Chrome Options. Select Under the Hood, then Network. Then click Change proxy settings. in the Internet Properties window click the LAN settings button. Next click Local Area Network (LAN) Settings. Uncheck “Use proxy server for your LAN”, then click OK.

Firefox: Hit the Firefox tab, then go to Tools, Options. Click Advanced, then open the Network tab and press Settings. Select “no proxy” , then click OK.

So there you have it. Follow these steps and the Google Redirect Virus should be a thing of the past on your device. And remember to be cautious before you click on that questionable link.  

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Understanding Malicious Software: A Guide to Malware, Spyware, Trojans, and more.

Viruses, Malware, & Trojans (Oh My!)

With so many types of computer viruses out there, how can we know how to deal with all of them effectively?

First, we must learn the different types of malicious software out there.

Computer viruses are already troubling enough without having to figure out antivirus programs. The programs are called “antivirus” software, but there are so many types of computer viruses: malware, spyware, adware, rootkits, etc. — how do you know if your antivirus software is scanning for and removing these as well? An understanding of the various types of malware out there helps you know the best antivirus solution for you.

Malware Medic is here to help you get a grasp of the nuts and bolts of computer viruses and other malicious types of software. You can read our guide to the best antivirus programs to find out which tools you should trust when your PC’s security is on the line.

Are computer viruses really something the average user needs to worry about? Sure, you aren’t hearing about computer viruses crashing computers on our daily news anymore, but computer viruses are more prevalent than ever. Malicious software of all kinds, including Trojans, malware, and other dangerous viruses are perfectly able to infect your computer, phish your personal data, incorporate your PC into a botnet, and send infected spam messages to all of your contacts.
Seems insurmountable? We agree, it can be daunting. But thankfully, a bit of due diligence can resolve your troubles. All it takes is your common sense, basic understanding of computer viruses, and a solid set of antivirus utilities, and you’ll find keeping your computer secure and free of malicious software is easy!

The Mystery of Malware and other Malicious Programs

We want to keep it simple — first, the difference between viruses and malware. Malware is a more general term, used to describe any kind of malicious code. In fact, the word “Malware” is a short form of the term “malicious software.” Malware represents spyware, adware, nagware, trojans, worms, viruses, and any other code that is designed explicitly to damage your computer or steal your personal information.

What is a Computer Virus?

Malware and computer virus are terms that are commonly used interchangably. However, this is inaccurate. A computer virus is a program that infects a PC, then copies itself from one file to another, and then from one PC to another as files are transferred, sent, or shared.
Viruses commonly infect .exe (executable) files, but may also target your autorun scripts, master boot record, Microsoft Office macros, or what appear to be random files. There are many computer viruses intended to effectively break your PC, deleting and corrupting as many of your files as possible. It’s goal is to wreak havoc throughout your computer system.
An updated antivirus application is important when protecting yourself from computer viruses. It’s also up to you to avoid e-mails that look suspicious or come from unknown sources. Unless someone is supposed to be sending you files, don’t open random attachments.

Look at the filenames of all e-mail attachments — any time you see filenames with the “.exe” extension unexpectedly added to them in your e-mail attachments, there’s a good chance that it’s a virus. Do not open that attachment. It’s especially difficult because not all .exe files are computer viruses, but computer viruses are commonly seen as .exe files. This is why an up-to-date antivirus program is so important.

How does Spyware Work?

Spyware is different from computer viruses. It is exactly what the name suggests — a spy on your computer. Spyware is any malicious software designed to “phish,” that is, steal your personal information without your awareness, and return that information to a central source where it can be used to your detriment — identity theft is no joke.
Spyware can log keyboard strokes to learn your passwords, monitor your search habits, infect your browser with the browser redirect virus, add obnoxious toolbars to your browser, and just plain steal your credit cards and bank information.

The goal of spyware is to make money — your money, to be specific. It will not kill your PC. Most people are using spyware and have no idea they’re running it. Generally, if your computer has one spyware program, there’s a collection of them around. After awhile, you’ll notice your PC running slower . . . and slower.

What makes it complicated is, not every antivirus program is able to detect and remove spyware. It is important that you know the specifications of your antivirus software so you can ensure that you’re protected from spyware also. If your PC is already infected, you should run a combination of MalwareBytes AntiMalware and SuperAntiSpyware to ensure it is squeaky-clean.

Ransomware: Your PC is the hostage.

Ransomware, aka “Scareware” is an awful type of malicious program attack. Users are lured into downloading a fake “antivirus” program. It plays a clever game. Suddenly, you’ll be told that your PC is infected with an alarming amount of viruses…that can only be cleaned if you buy a license from them. This is malware holding your PC hostage, to force you to pay a ransom. Many forms of ransomware will lock you out of the computer, and are not uninstalled easily.

If you discover an unfortunate PC infected with ransomware, there aren’t a whole lot of options. Google the name of the virus and find the specific instructions for how to remove it. The steps are often the same. Run MalwareBytes AntiMalware, SuperAntiSpyware, and if necessary, ComboFix.

Trojan Viruses Create Backdoors

A trojan horse application appears like a normal program, but has hidden, malicious code that follows another objective. Trojans create a secret door into your computer that allows your PC to be controlled remotely. This can be direct control, or your computer could be integrated into a botnet. A botnet is a network of computers that are all infected and usually being controlled from a single hub.
The primary difference between a virus and a trojan is trojans do not copy themselves. They must be installed directly by the user.
A PC infected with a Trojan virus is effectively a pawn. It can be used for various types of cybercrime, including denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, attack concealment, or sending out infected spam all over the globe, including your contact list.

Protecting against trojans is similar to protecting against computer viruses. Keep all your antivirus applications up to date, don’t open strange attachments, and be incredibly careful before you download any pirated software, especially Photoshop. This is one of malware creators’ favorite spots to conceal malicious trojan software.

Worms Take Advantage of Networks

A computer worm will overtake a network to copy itself and send itself to as many other PCs as possible. Powerful worms often take advantage of a security hole to travel from one system to the next, without any obstacles or user awareness. Worms are generally considered the most well-known type of malware, however, a large percentage of users still refer to them as viruses.

A Few Famous Computer Worms

Computer worms have made the news on more than one occasion — the ILOVEYOU worm that attacked computers in 2000 was spread via an e-mail attachment and caused nearly 6 billion dollars in damage.

In 2001, we had the Code Red Worm which spread through a security vulnerability to infect and deface 359,000 websites.

The entire internet was handicapped by the SQL Slammer worm, which exploited a buffer overflow vulnerability and caused a denial of service attack for over 75,000 systems in ten minutes.

Another especially impressive worm was the Blaster Worm which propogated itself across 423,000 systems in the span of 4 days, and forced computers to repeatedly reboot.

However, one unique thing about worms — their exploitation of network vulnerabilities gives us a different approach to preventing them. A strong firewall that is enabled and locked down can help to prevent the spread of worms. But that does not mean you can be lax in other areas. You will still need an up-to-date antivirus program.

In conclusion:

That covers the basic types of malicious software that you might encounter throughout your time using computers. A quick review:

– Computer viruses spread by copying themselves across your files, and can delete or corrupt your files.

– Spyware steals your personal information and data, and sends it back to its creator for criminal purposes. It will often appear as normal software and slows down your computer.

– Ransomware will hold your PC for ransom, blocking you from using it until it is removed properly. It disguises itself as an antivirus program and then locks you out of your PC.

– Trojans create a backdoor to your computer for it to be controlled remotely or used in a botnet. Keeping your antivirus program up-to-date is critical to avoiding trojans.

– Worms spread rapidly by exploiting network vulnerabilities and cause denial of service attacks or worse. They can be partially prevented by strong firewalls.

Making sure you have the best antivirus program possible is one thing you can do to ensure you are not vulnerable to the dangers of computer viruses, trojans, ransomware, spyware, worms, and other malware. Thanks for visiting Malware Medic!