Malware describes a classification of destructive software that includes viruses, worms, ransomware, trojan horses and others. Malware can cause a brief, annoying interruption, like crashing your computer and can also be much more severe, such as identity theft or the encryption of all your files and the inability to retrieve them unless a ransom is paid.

As cybercriminals continue to refine their processes it’s important to stay aware of possible risks to protect yourself and your data from infection. The following are some ways to ensure your data stays protected and your system is free of malware

1) Install quality antivirus software and keep it up to date. Run scheduled scans with your AV software regularly. The right kinds of AV applications update frequently and can protect against a larger range of threats.

2) Always keep your operating system current and updated, along with any software.

3) Utilize a complex password – a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols at least eight characters long.  Use a different password for each account.

4) Be mindful of what you download. Don’t open an email attachment from someone you don’t know, and scan files that you need to download prior to opening them. 

5) Don’t use an open WiFi and make sure to secure your own network by requiring a strong password to access it. If the connection doesn’t require a password, it’s not secure. Hackers can easily access unsecured devices on an unsecure network.

6) Be aware of and understand how scams, phishing attacks, and malware works. The better you understand these threats, the easier it will be to avoid them.

7) Pay attention when installing software. opt for custom installation and be sure to deselect items that are not familiar. 

8) Let your antivirus software scan any external drive you connect to your computer, even if it’s from a trusted source. A coworker or friend could be working with an infected external drive without being aware.

9) Disable auto run and image previews in Outlook. Malware can spread via the code found in graphics from an infected e-mail message.

10) Back up all your files. It’s best to back up your data on a separate storage device and to keep that device in a different location. Utilizing a cloud-based backup service is recommended in addition to storing your files on a device like an external hard drive. If you find yourself a victim of ransomware, you could avoid paying a ransom fee to retrieve your files if you had a current backup on hand instead.

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