A collection of best practices.
After interviewing information security experts and experienced online-security journalists, we learned no single app can protect you from an ever-changing array of new malware. The best protection consists of setting up and maintaining layers of security on your devices: keeping your operating system, browsers, and software updated, paying for decent but not overbearing virus and malware protection, installing browser extensions for Web privacy and security, and getting into smart security habits.
These tips aren’t just for the tech-averse, or those starting over after a malware event—this guide is for everyone who uses a computer. The Wirecutter editors and writers working on this guide realized which layers they had neglected in their own setups. Sometimes the person who is confident in their setup—too confident—still ends up clicking the wrong link, or downloading the wrong PDF, and infecting their system with malware.
First layer: Keeping your OS, browser, and other software up to date
Computers, browsers, and important apps receive updates more frequently now than in the late-1990s/early-2000s heyday of viruses, and the updates are often automatic and hard to avoid. That’s a good thing—don’t delay these updates, because they often contain important security fixes.
Windows 10 automatically installs updates, unless you go to some lengths to delay them. MacOS can install system updates automatically, and even automatically applies updates to apps you’ve downloaded through the official App Store. Chromebooks automatically update when you restart them (so you have to shut them down sometimes, instead of just putting them to sleep by closing them). If you haven’t updated to the latest version of your OS—particularly if you’re still on Windows 7 or 8 and haven’t updated to Windows 10—you should do so as soon as possible.
It’s frustrating to turn on your computer to do something and then wait while a large, slow update installs, and it’s annoying when that update breaks a driver or messes up your software, as sometimes happens. But system updates are usually smaller, faster, and less disruptive than the big overnight-download updates that came to earlier Windows and Mac versions, and they’re important for keeping your computer secure.