The most important factor in protecting your computer from malicious software is not which security package you install, or which browser you use. Far more important than any technical solution is the behavior of the user.
Just like in a big city, different locations present different levels of risk. The dark neighborhood on the wrong side of the tracks is riskier than the well-lit streets of downtown. Similarly, websites or file sharing services that promise free cracked software or adult movies are more likely to contain harmful content than well-known websites run by reputable companies.
Being streetwise in a city isn’t just about which streets you choose to walk on, it’s also about how you assess and respond to those you encounter, even in the best neighborhoods. Someone on a street corner selling cheap Rolexes might be offering a great bargain, or they might just be out to rip you off.
The analogy still holds for online threats. A favorite tactic of online thieves is to hitch their threat to the latest hot topic using what’s known as poisoned search results. When the latest royal wedding was in the news, a search for images of Kate Middleton and Prince William included results that required the user to install new software before viewing the pictures. Did someone really invent a new type of image file just for this event? Of course not – the software was a trojan.
How can you tell if the website you’re about to visit is legitimate? The easiest way is to hover your mouse over the link and read your status bar. Make sure the component of the address that comes right before the first single slash matches what the text claims it to be. Then pay close attention to any deal you’re offered. Celebrity pictures or videos in exchange for installing new software? Just walk on by.
None of this means you shouldn’t install security software to help protect yourself. When clients ask I usually recommend a free package, not because they’re better but because the user will never be tempted to let their subscription lapse for the sake of a few dollars. Just don’t forget that the best security software can never provide 100% protection – user behavior is key.