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Deemable Tech

Ask Deemable Tech: Avoiding Malicious Websites

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Jamie writes, “I recently started experiencing random pop-up ads on my computer even when I was on websites that don’t have pop-ups. Downloading a malware removal program didn’t fix the problem. Eventually I had to roll back to a clean install of Windows. How did my computer get infected, and how can I avoid this in the future?”

Getting infected with malware and pop-ups is no fun. Even though there are lots of software programs out there to clean this junk off your hard drive, these kinds of malware programs are designed to be a pain to remove.

The key is to avoid getting infected in the first place. People know that it’s not a good idea to walk down a dark street in the middle of the night, and the Internet is pretty similar. It has some bad neighborhoods, and you just need to know to avoid them.

First off, you want to be careful with what you search for. Unscrupulous spammers and hackers tend to stake out popular Google searches, and they especially love celebrities. In fact, anti-virus company McAfee published a list of 2013’s most dangerous celebrities to search for. The #1 most dangerous person to search for is Lily Collins – nearly one in seven of the results will land you on a malicious web site! Others dangerous celeb searches include Katy Perry, Sandra Bullock, and Britney Spears.

Celebrity searches aren’t the only searches that can get you in trouble, though. There are plenty of seemingly safe, regular search terms that can yield dangerous results, including:  

  • "lyrics”
  • “free music”
  • “game cheats”
  • “free ringtones”
  • “solitaire”
  • “make money”
  • “work from home”
  • “free downloads”

Now, a few different things can happen when you visit an unsafe website. The most common is that you’ll be hit with a pop-up asking you to download some “helpful” program. Never agree to this! Running strange programs from unknown sources is extremely dangerous. If a website asks you to download something and you weren’t expecting to download it, say no.
In some cases it’s possible for a website to load a malicious program onto your computer secretly. Avoid this by upgrading to the latest version of your web browser. Still running Internet Explorer 7? Go download version 10 immediately. Having the latest and greatest makes sure you’ve also got the most recent security updates.

You also need to be smart about email. It’s a bad idea to open a program or file that’s been emailed to you if you weren’t expecting it, even if it’s from someone you know. That person could be infected with a virus, many of which love to spread themselves through email attachments. If you’re not sure, email the person back and ask, “Did you mean to send this?”

Follow these steps and you’ll be pretty safe. But accidents do happen, so know that if you do get infected with malware, there’s help. Google keeps a list of safe, useful malware removal programs at google.com/goodtoknow. Just click on the “keep your device clean” link. 

For more great tech ad?vice, download the Deemable Tech app (for iPhone and Android), and listen to Deemable Tech's full length podcast at Deemable.com. You can also follow them on Twitter @Deemable.