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Help avoid instant message viruses

Help avoid instant message viruses

The "instant" nature of instant messaging (IM) explains its popularity. With IM programs such as Skype (which is built into Windows 8), AOL Instant Messenger, and Yahoo! Messenger, you can type messages and see the responses almost immediately. You can also make video calls.

The popularity of IM programs makes them a common target for virus writers.

Understanding instant message viruses

Instant message viruses are malicious programs that are spread, in most cases, when you click a link or open an infected file in an instant message that appeared to come from a friend. Your computer can become infected with a virus that may slow it down or stop it from responding.

Even if you don't notice any change in computer performance, the virus might have installed a covert program that could damage software, hardware, or important files or contain spyware that could track information entered on the computer.

A computer infected by a virus may continue to spread the infection by sending copies of the virus to everyone on your IM contact list—that is, the collection of IM names that you can store in your IM program.

5 tips to help avoid instant message viruses

As with most threats on the Internet, you can help keep yourself safe by taking basic precautions. If you know how to avoid email viruses, you'll already be familiar with many of these tips.

  • Be careful with links and files in IM. Never click a link or open, accept, or download a file in IM from someone you don't know. If the link or file is in an IM from someone you do know, don't click the link or open the file unless you know what the link or file is and you were expecting it. Contact the sender by email, phone, or some other method to confirm that what they sent was not a virus.

  • Update all your software. Visit Microsoft Update to scan your computer and install any high-priority updates that are offered to you. If you use automatic updating, the updates are delivered to you when they are released, but you have to make sure you install them.

  • Make sure you're using an updated version of your IM software. Using the most up-to-date version can better protect your computer against viruses and spyware. You can automatically update Skype and Messenger through Microsoft Update, but you will need to update any other IM program.

  • Use antivirus and antispyware software and keep it updated. Antivirus and antispyware software can help to detect and remove malicious programs from your computer, but only if you keep the software current.

    • Windows 8 includes antivirus protection that’s turned on by default and is automatically updated through Microsoft Update.

    • If your computer is running Windows 7 or Windows Vista, you can download Microsoft Security Essentials for free; it is also automatically updated through Microsoft Update.

      Note: You do not need more than one antivirus software program. If you two have two programs, uninstall or disable one to prevent conflicts.

  • Run your computer as a standard user not an administrator. With the User Account Control feature in Windows 8, Windows 7, and Windows Vista, you can run your computer as a standard user while enjoying the benefits of an administrator when you need them. This can help you avoid viruses and other unwanted software.