The problem posed by computer viruses has grown over the years, and it is safe to say that things will get worse in the future. Although viruses are simply software programs, once introduced, they can damage and affect the way in which hardware performs, or just make a piece of hardware appear to have a problem. Whatever the result of the infection, it means your security has been breached. To avoid such a situation, you need to take steps to prevent the virus entering in the first place.
What to do
Make sure you have a trustworthy and up-to-date anti-virus program installed on your computer and that the database is current so you can scan all your external hardware for potential problems. However, before you even get to that stage, always ensure you only buy external hardware from a reputable source. Buying such peripherals secondhand can be a worry as the device may already be infected and not perform its operations as intended. Recent research by Columbia University shows that even printers are vulnerable to attacks, although it should be noted that these attacks affect the actual software rather than the ink and toner cartridges themselves. As a rule-of-thumb, whenever you buy hardware, even brand new, be sure to test it with your virus scanner, as it is better to be safe than sorry.
What not to do
Never open any document that is sent or given to you electronically without scanning it first. This applies to anything contained on any data storage device and email attachments. Do not assume that because it comes from a friend, colleague or other trusted source that it is okay. They may unwittingly be passing on something unpleasant. Also, do not open emails that come from unknown sources, or click on links in spam emails that ‘get through the net’. In a similar vein, be wary when online.
The key to maintaining virus-free external hardware is basically common sense. Trust no-one and test everything before allowing it to become part of your system.
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