In a recent post, I recommended Panda’s Cloud Antivirus as a decent free antivirus program. Others have recommended different programs, and that’s fine – in the end, I don’t think there’s much meaningful difference between the various antivirus programs, at least in terms of security.
Much more important than which antivirus program you use (or anti-spyware, or firewall, or any security software), or even if you use one at all, are the practices that make up your online behavior. People who do risky stuff on the Internet will get a virus, sooner or later, regardless of how good their security software is. On the other hand, many security experts don’t use any antivirus software and still manage to avoid viruses.
I don’t recommend that you follow in the footsteps of the security experts – the nature of their calling demands a kind of paranoia that few of us can maintain. I recommend a solid package of security software (I run Cloud Antivirus and Windows Defender) but only as a safety net – something to pick up the slack when we make mistakes, not a first line of defense.Advertising
The thing with security, online or anywhere else, is that it’s always a trade-off between protection and convenience. I can tell you how to absolutely avoid any risk of computer virus, spyware, or trojan: stay offline and never install anything or use any removable storage media. That’s 100% perfect protection, but it would severely hinder your computer usage. It’s like securing a house: You could build a door-less, window-less titanium-sheathed reinforced-concrete bunker around your house and be absolutely sure burglars couldn’t get in, but you probably wouldn’t want to live there.
The tips below are sufficient to account for all but the most determined attacks against your computer. No amount of software or behavioral change can protect you from every possible attack (if the NSA wants to get on your PC, they are probably going to do so) but you can protect yourself from virtually all of the attacks you’re likely to face online.
I owe thanks for most of these tips to Leo Laporte and Steve Gibson, hosts of the TWiT netcast Security Now. If you’re interested in computer security at a very deep level, this weekly show is your ticket, and I heartily recommend it!
1. Use a router.
The very nature of the way routers works acts as an effective hardware firewall, preventing access to computers on your home network from outside the network. Put simply, when you request something from the Internet – say, you click a link, check your email, or enter a URL – the router notes which computer on its network the request came from so it can send the reply to the proper recipient. If a would be intruder attempts to enter your network, the router checks its list of outgoing requests and, if none is found correlating to the attackers’ IP address, it ignores it. It basically doesn’t know which computer to send it to, so it throws it out.Advertising
If you simply cannot use a hardware router, make sure your operating system’s firewall is turned on. This is almost, but not entirely, as good.
2. Do not open email attachments.
I know, who doesn’t want to see pictures of Anna Kournikova naked, right? Email attachments are a major vector for infecting computers, because it’s so easy to fake the sender so the email looks like it came from someone you know, and everybody loves opening attachments from people they know. It could be a funny picture of penguins, after all. But bottom line, don’t open attachments. If your email client automatically opens or previews them, turn that feature off. Even if it’s from your mom, and even if your mom says she opened it and it’s fine, still don’t open it. (By the way, next time you’re at mom’s, reinstall Windows. She’s got tons of viruses now.)
Now, I know that sometimes you have to open attachments, so here’s a simple test to know when it is most likely safe to open an attachment:
- You know that the email is from the person it says it’s from. That usually means that either they said they were sending it, or they’ve written a note that only they could have written.
- You are expecting an attachment from that person.
- You know the person who created the file.
- There is a compelling reason to open the attachment. I’m sorry, ma, but a good laugh isn’t enough to get me to risk my computer’s security.
If you can’t be absolutely, 100% sure on all these counts, trash it.Advertising
3. Do not download bittorrent files.
That sucks, I know, but since you’re never absolutely sure where the file comes from, where it’s been, or who might have altered it, bittorrent is risky. Downloading a Linux distribution from Ubuntu is probably ok; downloading it from Pirate’s Bay is a bit dodgy. Downloading Oscar screeners of movies that haven’t been released yet is super-duper dodgy. It’s a real shame to have to forego sticking it to The Man because of practical concerns, but you’re taking a big risk downloading an unknown file from an unknown person about whom the only thing you know is that they don’t feel any compunctions about breaking the law.
4. Do not download warez, porn, or other dubious files.
First they came for my bittorrents, then they came for my porn! It just gets worse and worse, doesn’t it. But really, think about it – people who distribute illegal copies of illegally hacked software a) are demonstrated lawbreakers, b) are familiar with programming code, and c) had access to the code you’re expecting to install on your computer. As for porn, while I’m sure there are plenty of Good Samaritans out there who distribute free pornography simply out of a desire for greater happiness in the world, some small number of them do it for financial gain. If they’re giving you free porn, they must be making money off you another way, and one of the easiest is to install a bunch of malware on your computer, run whatever code they want on it, and then sell the use of your computer to spammers, phishers, and other unsavory sorts. You want to know how bad these guys are? They don’t even care if they give pornography a bad name!
5. Do not download *anything* from sites you’re unfamiliar with.
Again, if you’re intending to install something you’ve downloaded onto your computer, you have to know that only people you trust have had access to it. Adobe, Microsoft, and other software manufacturers are generally trustworthy, as are sites like C|net’s Download.com. “Bob’s Free Software I Like a Whole Bunch” might not be quite as safe a bet.
7. Do not click links in email.
It’s very easy to hide the real destination of links sent in email by using HTML where the text reads “www.perfectlysafesiteyouknowandtrust.com” but the actual URL is “www.reallybadsiterunbymeanpeoplewithnofriends.net”. This is how phishing scams work – you think you’re going to PayPal or your bank, but really you’re going to a page designed to look just like your bank’s login page but hosted on the mean people’s server. Also, bad guys often put unique tracking IDs into links, so that they know exactly who clicked on a link – which means that they know which email addresses out of the millions they sent spam to are valid, which makes them worth more money to other spammers. Um, yay?
7a. Do not click shortened URLs.
I don’t like this one, because I like Twitter and you lose a lot of functionality if you don’t use a service like bit.ly or is.gd to shorten URLs, but these links are scary. When you hover your mouse over a link, the URL appears in the email or browser’s status bar, meaning you can verify that the link heads to where it says it does. When you do the same with a shortened URL, it just says the shortened URL. There are Firefox extensions like UnTiny that will reveal the true destination of shortened URLs, and some Twitter clients do as well, but until a universal solution is standardized, these URLs remain a bit scary, security-wise.
8. Install all security updates.
Unless you’re a multi-national mega-corporation running oodles of mission-critical custom-designed software, you need to install security updates as quickly as possible upon release. If remembering to do this isn’t something you think you’d be likely to do, set your computer to automatically download and install updates. Increasingly, we’re seeing “0-day” exploits – viruses and trojans written to make use of security flaws before those flaws are corrected by – or, in some cases, even known to – manufacturers. Keeping up-to-date is essential to keep even marginally safe.
I know that, the world being what it is, someone will be thinking right about now, “Hey, why don’t you just switch to Mac OS X or Linux?” It’s true, those operating systems get far fewer viruses and other problems than Windows PCs, but most experts seem to agree that this is at least in part because there are so many Windows PCs and so few Mac and Linux PCs. (There are plenty of Linux servers, but those are under professional supervision, which goes a long way towards making up for any security weaknesses Linux has.) Bad guys program for the system that allows the greatest spread of their malware, and right now, that’s Windows.
But if you’re still not convinced, I’ve got an even better idea for you. Both Mac OS X and Linux have demonstrated security vulnerabilities, and as they become more common are likely to become targets for hackers. So they’re not really safe bets. Instead, try BeOS! It may be riddled with security holes and only run on Pentium 4 and earlier PCs, but I can guarantee you, nobody is writing viruses for it!
For everyone else, whether you use Windows, Mac, or Linux, make sure to follow the rules above and, chances are, you’ll be just fine.
Last Updated on March 13, 2019
How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck
Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?
You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.
Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:
1. Work on the small tasks.
When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.
Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.
2. Take a break from your work desk.
Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.
Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.
Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.
The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?
4. Talk to a friend.
Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.
Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.
If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.
Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.
Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.
6. Paint a vision to work towards.
If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.
Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?
Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.
The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.
Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.
Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.
8. Have a quick nap.
If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.
9. Remember why you are doing this.
Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.
What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.
10. Find some competition.
Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.
Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.
11. Go exercise.
Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.
Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.
As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.
12. Take a good break.
Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.
Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.
Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.
Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime
More Resources About Getting out of a Rut
- How to Get Out of a Rut and Start Living the Life You Desire
- Feeling So Stuck in Life That You’re About to Give Up? Help is Here!
- How to Get Unstuck in Life and Live a More Fulfilling Life
- How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up
Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com