A small guide on what to avoid when using your computer every day
So many of us with deep knowledge of computers have seen the internet "memes" about Microsoft's Internet Explorer, and how terrible it is. There are a lot of misconceptions there that should be addressed, as well as other common mistakes made while browsing the internet and trying to "improve your computer".
Misconception #1 - Microsoft's Internet Explorer is inherently a bad browser.
Fortunately for Microsoft, that just isn't true, especially with the latest versions of the popular browser released over the last few years. The browser itself is relatively simple to use, and is considerably faster than its predecessors. They have also done a lot of good work making the browser a lot more secure from known threats. The misconception lies in the fact that it is the most used browser on a windows based PC. This is not because people prefer it over others, but because a good majority of PC users are people who either don't know there are other faster options, or just don't care. There are also those folks who have been using Internet Explorer so long, that the idea of switching to an unknown browser makes them twitch. However, because it is the most used browser, it is the primary target for the malicious people out there who dedicate their lives to stealing your information. It isn't a simple task to build a program that bypasses the beefed up security of a single browser, and is exponentially more difficult to do so when trying to make it work against the several available browsers. It is because of that fact, that most "hackers" will stop at IE and just reap the benefits there, leaving the other browsers secure from their attacks. This doesn't mean that you are completely safe when using another browser, but it does decrease your chances on being directly hacked through your browser.
Misconception #2 - I won't catch a virus if I only download trusted programs
Where this is near completely true, there are a few exceptions that can leave you wide open for a viral attack. It mostly comes from your extension of trust. Just because you use, say, Java every day in your assorted browsing needs doesn't mean that it is completely free of adware, malware, and bloatware. I will continue that example to point out that with any new installation of Java, or any update you do, it prompts you to install the "Ask Toolbar", and toolbars are the devil. I will get more into that later. Other key examples are things like DivX software, you will see their name in a lot of places, but using their software isn't free of risk. Alongside their installer is a good number of sponsored programs they ask you if you would like to install. The biggest problem here is that your "trusted source" isn't openly trying to load you with software that could harm your computer, they are just trying to generate revenue, and ad revenue is a good source. So, they take other companies' money to advertise said company's software options to you, and in a lot of cases I have found that no real research was done to find out if the advertised software is harmful or not. Now, with that said, yes there are some trusted sources out there that will not do this to you, but it is hard to find one that doesn't at least offer their own useless toolbar (cough Google cough) despite how great their software can be.
Misconception #3 - Not all toolbars are bad
Simple answer here is, yes, they most certainly are. You have no reason to have something like that on your computer. They serve no purpose in modern day browsers anymore. They had served a decent purpose in their early conception, when browsers didn't have built in internet search functions. Those days are long done and over with. There isn't a single browser option that doesn't come with a built in internet search option, so much so, that near every one of them has it integrated into the address bar. You just take your search query and input it into the address bar, hit enter, and poof, your search results appear. Many browsers offer you the option to change your default search provider as well, if you prefer one search over another. For example, I can set Internet Explorer to always use Google search, and I can tell Google Chrome to always use Bing. I assure you, other than search functionality, no matter what it offers, toolbars have no other function that is worth the risk to your computer. Shortcuts to the website of the toolbar's provider? Links to the toolbar's associated program you use? All of these things can be accomplished by you, without the need for their toolbar. Why are they bad, other than that? They take up memory, precious memory, that your browser uses to function. You lose a considerable amount of speed by having that attached to your browser all the time. They also make use of trackers, little things that watch your usage of your computer, so they can generate ads catered to what you are doing, and drag you into either spending money you shouldn't spend, or downloading a virus thinking it's something that could help you. Some underhanded dirty deeds can unfortunately happen.
Misconception #4 - All viruses are just there to destroy your computer
This one is easy. No, it is actually more rare now to find a virus that's job is just to destroy your software. Most virus makers have moved on now to identity theft. They get a virus in there that reports all your passwords and credit card information that you provide online back to the virus maker, and he has a field day skimming money from you. The talented ones will do this for a very long time, without you even knowing. The greedy ones are the ones you hear about, and your "fraud" protection on your accounts reimburses you, but the person who took your money to begin with rarely gets caught. Which makes protecting yourself from viruses that much more important. You don't want to be left with an empty bank account when rent has come due, because that is a scary time, even if the bank is going to reimburse you, most landlords will still charge the huge late fee
When the excrement rolls downhill, my biggest recommendation is not to use Internet Explorer or use toolbars. If you are going to download a new piece of software for any reason, watch every screen you move through, read every word, and decline any additional software it wants to add. Never hit "express installation" on anything, because if there is extra software in there, it won't even ask you to install it. Be careful "accepting terms" on things, because a lot of times, that's the terms for the add on software, and not the software you are attempting to use. Unfortunately, viruses are not going to go away, but if we all do our part to avoid them in an educated manner, they will be forced to try to juggle all of the browsers, and/or move into the Apple territory more aggressively.
Safe browsing everyone.