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What is Malware and How Do I Protect Myself from It?

Posted January 30th, 2016

computer virus

Malware is the shortened term used for “malicious software.” It refers to any computer program designed to harm your computer. There are many different kinds of malware out there. Some you might have heard of include: viruses, worms, spyware, and ransomware.

 

Where Does Malware Come From?

Answering this question is simple. It’s people.

In fact, malware has grown into a full-fledged criminal enterprise. Why?

Well, it turns out there are a lot of people that fall for these scams and end up turning over their financial and other personal information. Cybercriminals can then take this stolen information and use it to drain money from bank accounts or sell it to the highest bidder.

 

What Does Malware Do?

In the case of ransomware, users are barred from accessing their information when they download a malware-laced file. At this point, your data effectively becomes a hostage until you meet the hacker’s demands. For how to properly handle a ransomware situation, see our post on How to Protect Your Computer Against Ransomware.

Other types of malware, such as spyware, can track your cookie files to see where you’ve been on the Internet. Spyware can also extend beyond simple monitoring. It can actively collect personal data such as user logins and bank or credit card account information. Some spyware can install additional software without you knowing and change computer settings that slow down your machine.

Viruses are the most versatile forms of malware, as they can affect your computer in a variety of ways. Some viruses may steal hard disk space or CPU time, access your private information, corrupt your data, display pop-up ads, spam your inbox, log your keystrokes, or even render your computer completely useless.

 

How to Protect Yourself from Malware

Keeping your computer safe from malware requires two important steps: installing protection software and vigilance.

 

Vigilance

The most common way malware is spread is by email.

How it typically works is that you’ll receive an email from someone posing as a bank or a large, well-known business like Amazon or EBay. In the email, they will usually ask you to send them the credentials to your account, such as a username and password, or they will include a link to click on and have you enter your information there. This type of scheme is known as a phishing scam.

Below are two examples.

ebay-phishing-scam-email

citibank-phishing-scams

Emails like this should be deleted immediately and the sender’s address should be blocked.

 

Antivirus Protection

Aside from keeping a lookout for threats like these, you should also use an antivirus software as an extra layer of defense.

Good antivirus software will:

  • Scan downloaded programs to ensure they are malware-free
  • Periodically scan your computer to detect and remove any malware that might have slipped through
  • Regularly update to keep up with the latest threats
  • Recognize and warn against previously unknown threats based on technical features commonly seen in malware
  • Warn you when you’ve landed on a suspicious website

For more ways to help keep your computer secure, see our articles: 8 Ways to Instantly Make Your Computer More Secure and How to Create a Secure Password.

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