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There’s a lot to cover here so let’s just dive right in.

Antivirus Software

You can download free copies of Sophos Anti-Virus from the ITS website for personal use for Windows and Macs. If you’re looking for other options, there are many:

That said, other than fake antivirus software that is actually malware in disguise, you’re unlikely to run into too many situations where the particular antivirus software you use will be the determining factor of whether you end up infected or not but there are independent testing labs that will go through and rate how each product performs.

Supplementary Malware Protection

If you are using Windows, there you can install these alongside your antivirus software to get additional protection from the many (many many) Windows malware out there.

 

Stay up to date

Windows and OS X will both nag you to install updates. Please install them. On OS X, you have the additional benefit of getting reminded of apps that you install through the App Store.

Many applications these days will also check for updates on their own, too, so if your app tells you that an update is available, consider installing it.

If you want to be really thorough, there are tools that will scan your computer for installed software and let you know which ones have updates available:

A warning about some updates

Security-related updates are generally released free of cost. Lots of commercial products will remind you for both updates and paid upgrades. Generally speaking, you don’t need to install paid upgrades in order to remain secure.

But on the flip side, developers and manufacturers don’t always support older products – both hardware and software. There’s no hard and fast rule for this – generally, if a free update is available, you’re better off installing it. But don’t let a lack of available updates fool you into thinking you’re safe – it could just be that you’re using a product that’s no longer receiving security fixes.

 

Use Chrome or Firefox

On any Mac or Windows computer you use, install Chrome or Firefox (and keep them up to date). Both of these browsers incorporate a lot of security features that are absent from Safari and Internet Explorer.

Install an Ad Blocker

Last year, I had some mixed feelings about recommending an ad blocker but the fact is that malicious advertising is now a common enough way for bad software to get on your computer that it has its own name: malvertising. AdBlock Plus remains as one of the best solutions out there, with support for most major browsers.

Just remember: sites can detect if you’re blocking ads and may tell you to disable ad blocking. This is fair, as the advertising subsidizes the cost of content that you’re otherwise getting for free. But just because you trust a particular site doesn’t mean you can trust the ads. A lot of sites get their ads from a separate company and that other company ultimately controls what ads (including malicious ones) get distributed.

So until the industry can get a handle on the problem, my recommendation is to unblock ads on sites sparingly.

A word about mobile devices

While security products exist for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, most real experts (e.g., people who don’t stand to make a profit off the sales of said products) don’t think they’re all that effective. If you want to use one, both Sophos and MalwareBytes makes free ones but I wouldn’t pay for anything unless they offered some additional service that you were after like parental controls or some such.

Updates are also a little easier on mobile devices since you’re probably getting all of your apps from an app store. But remember the caveat earlier – just because an update isn’t available doesn’t mean you’re free of all security risks. This is especially true if you’re using a phone or tablet running Google’s Android.

Advanced steps

If this is all a little boring and basic for you, here are some additional toys you can play around with. These are all too complex to cover here so don’t go messing around with these unless you know what you’re doing (or are willing to put in the time to learn).

And another thing…

Go get your flu shot!