If I were to ask you if you wanted a computer virus, malware, or ransomware, I’m pretty sure the answer would be an emphatic, “NO!”  But a lot of people keep on doing the very things that make it much more likely that your PC or phone will get infected.  In the tech world, it’s always the height of cold and flu season and not only can you assume all your coworkers have the flu, but they are actively trying to give it to you. Imagine people purposely sneezing on your keyboard and wiping their germy hands on your phone and taking a sip out of your coffee.

computer-1446111_640

Since telling people NOT to do things doesn’t always work so well, I’m going to try a little reverse psychology and tell you exactly how to get a virus.

  1.  Run an unsupported operating system. Want to up your chance of coming down with a bug?  Start by running an outdated operating system like Windows XP or Vista. Even if you run a third-party security software, it can’t protect you. Why? Because third-party software counts on information from Microsoft to get down into the system to hunt and fix viruses. Without that information, they can’t stop them. To make matters worse, crooks check out the security patches for supported operating systems and reverse engineer them to create new malware. Hackers have managed to reverse engineer ransomware that’s crashed an entire country’s health system.  If you have an unsupported system, don’t take it online.
  2. Don’t update your system. The purpose of having a supported system is that you’ll get security and but updates on a regular basis.  But if you don’t download and install updates, they aren’t going to do you much good. Hackers are working 24/7 to create new malware, viruses, and ransomware. Fortunately, so are security researchers. But you have to install their updates and patches. The same goes for software like Java and Flash.
  3. Don’t use security software. You’d probably be stunned to learn how many people don’t run any security software on their PC or mobile device. (especially young people.) There are a variety of free and paid programs available for every type of device. It’s especially important for phones as they are increasingly becoming the target of criminals.  At the very least, if you have a Windows PC, make sure Defender is activated. I know that the cost of a security program like Norton can seem expensive, but it’s a lot less expensive than losing your PC or having your bank account emptied.
  4. Click on everything without thinking. Get an email with just a link and no explanation? Click right on that link. How about a friend request from someone you’ve never heard of that says he’s a retired astronaut in Nigeria?  How about a Facebook post that says your favorite store is giving everyone who shares or clicks on a link a $100 gift certificate to your favorite store? Sounds legit to me. A site promising to allow you to stream normally premium programming for free? Sign right on up. It’s time to use your noggin. If someone approached you with an offer like that on the street, would you believe it? Why are you buying it on the Internet? Read things and think about them, especially if they require you to click on links or register. Not only are you exposing yourself to hackers, you could potentially expose your friends and contacts.
  5. PANIC! Crooks love to go for that fear response. Your PC starts making a warning noise and a pop-up tells you that you have ten minutes to call a number or you’ll lose your Windows license.  You get a phone call from a guy claiming he’s with Microsoft and that errors have been detected on your system. He needs your credit card and immediate access to your system to fix it. An email turns up in your box saying that your device is going to be locked by the FBI if you don’t respond immediately. Or that your bank account will be locked if you don’t click and reconfirm your account number and password. So you panic. And do exactly the wrong thing. That fear response will get you into trouble every time. No matter what’s happening, try to take just a couple of minutes to take a deep breath and ask yourself if this is a real thing. Sometimes just a minute will help you get a clear head and avoid a costly mistake.