In the news recently there have been some high-profile security scares for computer users. Adobe released an emergency update for Flash after hackers exploited a vulnerability, while Samsung was heavily criticised for disabling Windows Update and leaving laptop users exposed to security risks.

Common sense alone isn’t enough to protect your Windows PC from malware – malicious software that disrupts your computer’s operations or gathers sensitive information about your online behaviour.

Hackers can attack your PC in so many different ways that employing several layers of anti-malware protection is the only way to keep your PC malware-free when it’s online.

Here are seven steps to protect your computer from Malware. Check out the video above to find out more.

 

Tip 1: Install, update and use anti-virus software

Tip 1: Install, update and use anti-virus software

Installing antivirus software may sound like an obvious first step to protect against malware, but not everyone bothers to do it. With so many options now available, though, there really is no excuse. Microsoft offers its own free download in the form of Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows Vista and 7, while Windows 8/8.1 has Microsoft Defender built in.

Alternatively, BT Virus Protect is available free to BT broadband customers. Check out the box below to find out more.

Once installed, it’s vital to regularly update your anti-malware software’s database and run system scans at least once a month.

[Related story: What is a computer virus?]

Tip 2: Keep Windows up to date

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Hackers often discover new ways to bypass Windows’ built-in security features, which is why Microsoft issues small operating system updates every Tuesday and larger ‘service pack’ updates once or twice a year. These will be downloaded and installed automatically by Windows update, but only if this feature is properly configured.

To check that it’s working normally, type Windows Update in the Start menu search box in Windows Vista/7, or at the Start screen in Windows 8/8.1. Look on the left of the Windows Update window and click Change settings and use the drop-down list to check that Install updates automatically is selected - anything other than this risks a crucial update being missed.

 

Tip 3: Turn on the Windows firewall

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Windows has a built-in ‘firewall’ that protects your PC from unwanted attention via the internet. This software firewall is enabled by default and works alongside any hardware firewall that’s built into your home broadband router. Check its settings by typing “check firewall” in the Start menu search box or on the Windows 8 Start screen and choosing Check firewall status from the results.

Two green tick marks mean the firewall is working normally, else you’ll need to select Turn Windows Firewall on or off on the left of the window and enable one or both options that appear.

 

Tip 4: Use the latest version of your web browser

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Web browsers are vital applications, but just like other software, they can contain bugs. Hackers are quick to capitalise on these and create bogus (or infect genuine) web sites with data designed to exploit them. Once a web browser has been compromised in this way, a hacker can monitor everything you type, including passwords to credit card numbers. That’s why it’s vital to use the latest version of your web browser - anything other than this may be a security risk.

Microsoft includes updates for Internet Explorer. Search for Windows Update and check its optional updates section to ensure you’re also using the latest version of the application - which is Internet Explorer 11, if you’re using Windows Vista, 7 or 8/8.1.

Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox will also update themselves automatically, but don’t ignore their requests to restart the browser when such an update has been downloaded and is ready to be installed.

 

Tip 5: Don’t fall for phishing emails

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Emails that appear to be from a recognisable online service asking you to log into a site to confirm some personal details are always fake.

These emails are usually caught by your email application’s spam filter, but if one does slip through and you click its link, your web browser should detect and block the site it takes you to.

This does depend on your web browser being aware of the fraudulent site, though, which is another good reason to always use the most recent version.

[Related story: How to deal with fraudulent emails]

 

Tip 6: Use the Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool

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If you suspect your PC has succumbed to malware and your anti-malware software doesn’t detect it, there are two steps to take.

The first is to download and run the Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool from the Windows Download Centre. This will detect and remove specific types of malware and is very simple to use, although it isn’t a replacement for a full anti-malware application.

 

Tip 7: Still infected? Use a boot CD.

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Some malware can hide within Windows and make itself difficult to detect and remove. If your own anti-malware software and the Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool fail to shift it, you’ll need to download and burn a free anti-malware boot CD – refer to your computer’s manuals for instructions on how to boot from a CD as the process varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Kaspersky Rescue Disk 10 is a good one, but never download it on an infected PC -ask a friend to do it, if necessary. This will then scan your PC for malware without the need for Windows, which makes removal that much easier.

Are there any security tips we've missed? Let us know in the Comments box below.