Did you know that your computer can download malicious software without you even knowing it? It’s called a “drive-by download,” and it can happen when you visit a perfectly legitimate website, sometimes without you even clicking on a link. Bad guys can hide viruses, spyware, or just unwanted adware on good websites, and the download is triggered when you, for example, click on a pop-up window thinking that you are acknowledging an error report from the operating system or dismissing an advertisement. The download happens in the background and—bam! —your computer or mobile device is infected.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
Drive-by downloads are intended to happen without your knowledge, so it’s hard to avoid them. But there are things you can do to protect yourself.
- Stick to safe websites. Real drive-by attacks don’t always happen just in the dangerous parts of town. So, be vigilant and practice safe browsing habits by avoiding questionable websites like ones that offer pirated music, movies or adult content.
- Keep your software current. Malware tends to exploit bugs and security holes in software, so install security updates on your PC and mobile devices as soon as they become available. You can configure your computer or mobile device to regularly check and notify you of updates.
- Invest in security software to give you additional protection. A good security program will warn you if you visit a site that is questionable, and it will warn you if a program tries to use services on your computer, change configuration settings or run an application. When you consider the damage that criminals could do by stealing your personal information or locking up and ransoming your computer files, a decent security application is worth the minimal investment.
- Be on the alert for unwanted downloads. Don’t click on any unexpected pop-up window that warns you of a system problem or advertises an unknown product. Configure your browser’s security and privacy settings to block ads and to restrict execution of ActiveX or Flash files.
Finally, watch for the spinning icons, progress bars, or browser messages that indicate a download is in process. If you notice a download happening that you didn’t expect, stop it. Close that window, shut down the browser, disconnect from the Internet, and shut down the computer. Having to restart might be inconvenient, but the alternative could be downright dangerous.