Prevent malware infection

Attackers are always looking for new ways to infect computers. Follow the tips below to stay protected and minimize threats to your data and accounts.

Keep software up to date

Exploits typically use vulnerabilities in software. It's important to keep your software, apps, and operating systems up to date.

To keep Microsoft software up to date, ensure that automatic Microsoft Updates are enabled. Also, upgrade to the latest version of Windows to benefit from the latest built-in security enhancements.

Email, SMS messages, Microsoft Teams chat, and other messaging tools are a few of the most common ways attackers can infect devices. Attachments or links in messages can open malware directly or can stealthily trigger a download.

  • Use an email service that provides protection against malicious attachments, links, and abusive senders. Microsoft Office 365 has built-in anti-malware, link protection, and spam filtering. Microsoft Outlook contains additional security configurations and settings you can enable. See Advanced security for Microsoft 365 subscribers

  • Some attackers try to get you to share information about your login information, passwords, and more. Be aware of some of the common tactics attackers use to try to trick you. For more information, see phishing.

Watch out for malicious or compromised websites

When you visit malicious or compromised sites, your device can get infected with malware automatically or you can get tricked into downloading and installing malware. See exploits and exploit kits as an example of how some of these sites can automatically install malware to visiting computers.

To identify potentially harmful websites, keep the following in mind:

  • The initial part (domain) of a website address should represent the company that owns the site you're visiting. Check the domain for misspellings. For example, malicious sites commonly use domain names that swap the letter O with a zero (0) or the letters L and I with a one (1). If is spelled, the site you're visiting is suspect.

  • Sites that aggressively open popups and display misleading buttons often trick users into accepting content through constant popups or mislabeled buttons.

To block malicious websites, use a modern web browser like Microsoft Edge that identifies phishing and malware websites and checks downloads for malware.

If you encounter an unsafe site, click More [...] > Send feedback on Microsoft Edge. You can also report unsafe sites directly to Microsoft.

Pirated material on compromised websites

Using pirated content isn't only illegal, it can also expose your device to malware. Sites that offer pirated software and media are also often used to distribute malware when the site is visited. Sometimes pirated software is bundled with malware and other unwanted software when downloaded, including intrusive browser plugins and adware.

Users don't openly discuss visits to these sites, so any untoward experience are more likely to stay unreported.

To stay safe, download movies, music, and apps from official publisher websites or stores.

Don't attach unfamiliar removable drives

Some types of malware spread by copying themselves to USB flash drives or other removable drives. There are malicious individuals that intentionally prepare and distribute infected drives by leaving them in public places for unsuspecting individuals.

Only use removable drives that you're familiar with or that come from a trusted source. If a drive has been used in publicly accessible devices, like computers in a café or a library, make sure you have antimalware running on your computer before you use the drive. Avoid opening unfamiliar files you find on suspect drives, including Office and PDF documents and executable files.

Use a non-administrator account

At the time they're launched, whether inadvertently by a user or automatically, most malware run under the same privileges as the active user. This means that by limiting account privileges, you can prevent malware from making consequential changes any devices.

By default, Windows uses User Account Control (UAC) to provide automatic, granular control of privileges—it temporarily restricts privileges and prompts the active user every time an application attempts to make potentially consequential changes to the system. Although UAC helps limit the privileges of admin users, users can override this restriction when prompted. As a result, it's quite easy for an admin user to inadvertently allow malware to run.

To help ensure that everyday activities don't result in malware infection and other potentially catastrophic changes, it's recommended that you use a non-administrator account for regular use. By using a non-administrator account, you can prevent installation of unauthorized apps and prevent inadvertent changes to system settings. Avoid browsing the web or checking email using an account with administrator privileges.

Whenever necessary, log in as an administrator to install apps or make configuration changes that require admin privileges.

Read about creating user accounts and giving administrator privileges

Other safety tips

To further ensure that data is protected from malware and other threats:

  • Backup files. Follow the 3-2-1 rule: make 3 copies, store in at least 2 locations, with at least 1 offline copy. Use OneDrive for reliable cloud-based copies that allow access to files from multiple devices and helps recover damaged or lost files, including files locked by ransomware.

  • Be wary when connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots, particularly those that don't require authentication.

  • Use strong passwords and enable multi-factor authentication.

  • Don't use untrusted devices to log on to email, social media, and corporate accounts.

  • Avoid downloading or running older apps. Some of these apps might have vulnerabilities. Also, older file formats for Office 2003 (.doc, .pps, and .xls) allow macros or run. This could be a security risk.

Software solutions

Microsoft provides comprehensive security capabilities that help protect against threats. We recommend:

  • Automatic Microsoft updates keeps software up to date to get the latest protections.

  • Microsoft Edge browser protects against threats such as ransomware by preventing exploit kits from running. By using Windows Defender SmartScreen, Microsoft Edge blocks access to malicious websites.

  • Microsoft Defender Antivirus is built into Windows and helps provide real-time protection against viruses, malware, and other attacks.

  • Microsoft Safety Scanner helps remove malicious software from computers. NOTE: This tool doesn't replace your antimalware product.

  • Microsoft Defender is the simple way to protect your digital life and all of your devices. It's included as part of your Microsoft 365 Family, or Personal, subscription at no extra cost.

Use Zero Trust

Businesses should move to a Zero Trust security strategy. Zero Trust isn't a product or a service, but an approach in designing and implementing the following set of security principles:

  • Verify explicitly
  • Use least privilege access
  • Assume breach

Software solutions for business

  • Microsoft Defender for Business is a security solution designed especially for the small- and medium-sized business (up to 300 employees). With this endpoint security solution, your company's devices are better protected from ransomware, malware, phishing, and other threats.

  • Microsoft Exchange Online Protection (EOP) offers enterprise-class reliability and protection against spam and malware, while maintaining access to email during and after emergencies.

  • Microsoft Defender for Office 365 includes machine learning capabilities that block dangerous emails, including millions of emails carrying ransomware downloaders.

  • OneDrive for Business can back up files, which you would then use to restore files in the event of an infection.

  • Microsoft Defender for Endpoint provides comprehensive endpoint protection, detection, and response capabilities to help prevent ransomware. In the event of a breach, Microsoft Defender for Endpoint alerts security operations teams about suspicious activities and automatically attempts to resolve the problem.

  • Windows Hello for Business replaces passwords with strong two-factor authentication on your devices. This authentication consists of a new type of user credential that is tied to a device and uses a biometric or PIN. It lets user authenticate to an Active Directory or Azure Active Directory account.

What to do with a malware infection

Microsoft Defender for Endpoint antivirus capabilities help reduce the chances of infection and automatically remove threats that it detects.

In case threat removal is unsuccessful, read about troubleshooting malware detection and removal problems.