Malware, short for malicious software, is a broad term. It’s used to describe software that has the ability to infiltrate your PC and compromise your most precious data. Malware can affect anyone at any time, from huge corporations to individuals who use their PC for little more than Web browsing. In an effort to help you protect your PC, here’s a breakdown of the most common types of malware and how you can combat the threat:
A virus is the most commonly referenced type of malware. It can be a virus, worm, or Trojan. And, once it has infected your computer it’s able to copy itself. If left un- quarantined, it will spread. The best protection against viruses is antivirus software.
Beyond spreading to other PCs, the ultimate goal of a virus is to steal your information. It will target your financial data, files, and identifying information. Viruses are an old form of malware, but they continue to be a growing threat. Keep your antivirus software updated and run it regularly.
The phishing scam isn’t exactly malware, but it is how most people end up infected with malware. Phishing is when you’re solicited to download something or click a link. Unfortunately, the sole purpose of this exercise is to trick you into giving away information. As with most malware threats, your best defense is avoiding the problem. Don’t open unknown emails, download attachments, or click links suspicious looking emails.
Unfortunately, phishing schemes are growing more sophisticated. Even emails from colleagues, friends, or family members may be infected with malware. Your best protection is to install email security software, which will filter spam and scan attachments.
Adware, or advertising software, are popups and software that spam you with advertisements. Adware is more of an annoyance than anything, but it becomes dangerous when it’s bundled with spyware. To protect yourself, install both antivirus software and adware detection software. When downloading programs, always choose the custom install so you can unselect any bundled applications you don’t want.
The aptly titled spyware spies on your PC without your knowledge. It can collect information on nearly everything you do, including your keystrokes, account information, and logins. More intelligent spyware programs are able to exploit your PC’s vulnerabilities, which is why it’s necessary to keep your operating system updated and run anti-spyware protection software regularly.
Ransomware is particularly vicious malware that once held an entire hospital hostage. The hospital wasn’t able to access their computer system until they paid the ransom, which was 40 Bitcoins, the equivalent of $17,000. You can protect yourself from ransomware by backing up your PC regularly.
Rootkits aren’t all bad. Sometimes they are used for legitimate remote monitoring such as desktop assistance programs or home-based working solutions. Unfortunately, once installed the hacker executing the rootkit has access to all of your files. They can use it to disable your security software and cause trouble undetected.
In this case, the best defense is a good offense. Rootkits are notoriously difficult to find and remove so never allow remote desktop sharing. A cybersecurity suite that monitors and protects your PC, email, and web browsing will help you avoid downloading a rootkit. If you must allow remote access, don’t do it from your Window’s administrator profile; instead, create a limited access account and save nothing valuable on it.
The Symptoms of Malware
Although there are lots of common types of malware, the symptoms are usually the same. Is your computer behaving strangely? Perhaps it’s slow to connect or won’t connect at all? Other symptoms of malware include frequent crashing, frozen screens, increased CPU usage, slow browser speeds, and the sudden appearance of new desktop icons. Another very serious and all-too -common symptom is malicious emails sent from your email address without your knowledge.
One crucial way to prevent malware is by avoiding spam. Spam is most frequently distributed by email, but you can be targeted in many other places, including on social media, and instant messenger. Combating malware requires a combination of anti-malware software and common sense on behalf of the user. Being informed of common attack tactics and practicing safe user practices online will lower your risks of infecting your PC and networks.