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It used to be that people picked up the most viruses directly from the classroom setting. Unfortunately, things haven't changed much in the technological age. Instead of catching viruses that leave us bed-ridden for a few days, we find ourselves burdened with viruses that leave our computers, and all of our hard-work, crippled or destroyed.
A common requirement of any online learning program is to upload, download, email, or post documents, web links, pictures, etc., so that the rest of the class can benefit. If anybody downloads freeware, shareware, or any type of software program from the Internet without first running a virus scan, there's a very real risk of infecting every computer who tries to open, run, or install these downloads. Some people may feel particularly comfortable downloading just about anything, as long as an instructor says it's okay to do so. But what if the instructor didn't run a virus scan?
Before registering for courses/programs online, find out what system requirements your computer needs, and then ask the school which type of anti-virus software they use. You might be able to purchase a copy of it from the school at a student-discount rate. Conversely, you could look into any number of popular anti-virus software programs. Stay away from messengers if at all possible and consider only interacting with students directly on the class web board. There's no way to be 100% safe from viruses and hackers, but exercising caution when it comes to downloads could save you a world of headache down the road.