Here's how to outsmart malware on your computers

Spyware won't necessarily ask you for a ransom, but it will monitor your activities and log your data without your knowledge.

Here's how to outsmart malware on your computers

Spyware won't necessarily ask you for a ransom, but it will monitor your activities and log your data without your knowledge.

Moreover, these malicious programs or snitches can do everything from hijacking your webcam's video link to recording your keystrokes. From there, they can also collect enough of your personal data to steal your identity, take over your accounts, or expose your digital life.

But, with a little discipline, a watchful eye, and a few dollars a year, you can stay safe from spyware.

Let's start with good news, even as spyware is getting smarter and more sophisticated, so are web browsers and operating systems by integrating more security tools. Nevertheless, and it costs nothing, you should always keep your system, programs and security tools up to date with the latest patches released by their vendors.

Along with system updates, solid antivirus software for Windows and macOS will protect you against a wide range of malware, keyloggers, and other webcam hacks.

Before making your choice on antivirus software, count the number of devices to be protected; in addition to your computers, there are surely tablets and smart phones in the household.

To cover them, there are plans on the market that cover all types of devices; Bitdefender, McAfee, Norton, Avira, Avast are just a short list of antivirus vendors. Go to www.av-comparatives.org for independent reviews. By shopping around, you can reduce the annual cost by subscribing for more than one year.

Despite the qualities of the macOS system, experts recommend strengthening its defenses by adding an antivirus package. There are several good reasons for this. First, Apple's approach might be adequate for well-established malware if you update as soon as they're released, but might not respond quickly enough to new threats. Second, you get broader coverage against malware. Third, macOS is not immune to bugs. For more details on virus defense features, read the note (*) at the end of the text.

On the Windows 10/11 system side, the situation is simpler, Microsoft already offers its own antivirus software - Windows Security - use it. On the other hand, your other devices will still require an antivirus.

If you want more protection on Windows, the free version of Spybot Search

As long as you install one of these antivirus packages, you will massively reduce the risk of infection on your computer, between your devices or those of your friends or colleagues who transfer files to you on USB keys.

In the same vein, and even if everyone in the family is trustworthy, do not share your own user account with another person. Protect these accounts with passwords and create one account per user. In Windows, do this by going to Settings > Accounts; in macOS, at Apple menu > System Preferences > Users & Groups.

Also, you will need to be careful what you install on your computer and where you download it from.

Harmless messages, email attachments, social media content, fraudulent web links, computer threats can come from anywhere.

Make sure you get your new software from trusted sources or from the Apple, Google or Windows app stores. Same logic for web browsers and their extensions and add-ons. For the latter, read their characteristics carefully, some, you will see, are real snitches despite the advantages they offer. Remember that nothing is free.

If, despite your software defenses and discipline, your computer appears to be taking suspicious actions, such as a sudden drop in performance, high hard drive or CPU usage, or unexpected application launches in the middle of a session , it is that there is an eel under rock. Or windows that appear briefly and then disappear again, a sign that a program is loading and then hiding.

Other strange actions include mouse movements or unexplained text input, which may be a sign of something unknown working in the background; changes to operating system settings; and the appearance of app shortcuts you didn't notice before.

To find out for sure, in Windows, go to Task Manager, select the Processes tab to check applications and all processes in use. Under macOS, open the Activity Monitor tool, do Command 1 to open the Activity Monitor window (also available in the Windows menu) and select the Processor tab to classify the list of programs according to the system resources that they grab.

This may seem very complicated to you, but keep an eye out for suspicious or unknown processes and do a quick web search of their names to find out what they are.

For example, a malicious program could use your computer's "free" processing capabilities to generate (mine) bitcoins.

With all these precautions and especially by adopting good habits, the chances of seeing your favorite system being taken hostage by a malicious program are very slim. Do not neglect them.

* To understand how macOS defenses work, Apple embeds some anti-malware capabilities. First, there is "Gatekeeper", which warns when applications without a digital signature are running. Then there's "XProtect", which checks files against known malware signatures. Finally, Apple provides the MRT (Malware Removal Tool). Gatekeeper and MRT are essentially invisible to users and have no direct user interface.

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