The other day, I received a tweet, with a compressed URL link, from a good friend asking if I wanted to learn about her weight-loss program. After a moment (and before clicking the link), I thought, “Wait a minute. She has always been quite thin.” No … not Twitter spam! It doesn’t matter what your favorite communication tool is, odds are that the jerks out there have found a way use it to try to compromise your security. Years ago, when I first starting writing my “Techniques” newsletter, I often focused on helping readers protect their computers. Well, it seems that it’s time to go back to the old days.

Just don’t click it. If you receive a strangely generic note from someone you know—something like, “Hey, you should check this out,” with a link to a Web page or video—it’s probably spam at best, and at worst, “spyware” or “malware” waiting for you to click on it so it can infect your computer. Whether you see this in your e-mail inbox, on Facebook, or on Twitter, all I can say is, don’t click on it!

So what are spyware and malware? Good question. In short, these are both malicious pieces of code that infiltrate a computer. They might collect information about you, perhaps to try to send targeted ads to your computer (sometimes via pop-ups), or they could try to damage your system, steal your identity, or take control of your computer. Sounds really sweet, doesn’t it? Check out this Wikipedia page for a more complete definition. Needless to say, we need to protect ourselves.

Doesn’t my antivirus software protect me? Well, maybe. It depends on which antivirus software you use and how regularly it’s updated. PC Magazine recently reviewed all of the major antivirus utilities, rating them based how good a job they did on the editors’ tests. It’s definitely worth a read.

Should I install these on my work computer? No, no, and no. Especially not antivirus software. First of all, you shouldn’t install anything on your work computer without the OK from your IT department. However, antivirus software is notorious for not playing nicely with its antivirus brothers and sisters. In fact, installing one antivirus software on top of another can crash your system.

But I’m on a Mac! Apple computers can’t get infected with viruses and spyware, can they? Um, yes they can. Enough said.

What should I know about social media? Well, other than that you should be using it every day (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!), Facebook and Twitter are just as much prey to spam and malware as is e-mail. On Twitter, why not follow @spam to get tweets that will help protect you from Twitter spam; and on Facebook, check out the security page.

Any other good resources? Let’s start out with one of my favorites, the Home PC Firewall Guide. Don’t let the name mislead you. Click on the link for “anti-Malware,” and you’ll get a wealth of info about how to better protect your computer. The Virus Bulletin has more information than you’ll ever need. Its resources page is full of great information and terminology to help you better understand this info. The Spyware Guide allows you to search a huge database of malicious software for information on what might be infecting your computer.

This may not have been the coolest of the Cool Tools columns, but if it prevents even one person from having to rescue their computer (and possibly their identity) from these ugly attacks, I’m happy. Feel free to share your own malware war stories, or perhaps the solutions you’ve used to prevent these infections.