What is Malware and How do I Avoid It?
Malware: (short for malicious software) is an all-encompassing word for undesirable software used to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information, or gain illegal access to computer systems. Malware includes computer viruses, ransomware, trojan horses, adware, and other malicious programs.
Computer Virus: The key to a virus is that it attempts to replicate itself. It is a form of malware that “infects” a host computer with any number payloads. The activities vary from harmless political statements to destructive commands that can wipe out data.
Trojan: A Trojan is a non-self replicating program that may do similar things to a virus. The name Trojan is a reference to a wooden horse used to trick the army of Troy. A Trojan typically requires the user to start the program. This is done by appearing to be something it’s not and then when the program is run, its malicious functions begin.
Ransomware: A form of malware, usually a Trojan that in some form blocks access to files on a computer. Demands are given to send money for the key to unlock the computer or files.
Adware: A form of malware that seeks to display advertisements to the user and or gather search history on the user. The simplest adware may just change the default search page in browsers. Typically browser windows will pop up or program windows pop up after you search for something. Add-on browser toolbars often fall into this category.
Being vigilant regarding Malware is the only protection. The route taken to infect a system is often called an attack vector. There are many attack vectors and new ones are being found every day. We all are familiar with software updates. Most of them are not to bring new functionality but to patch vulnerabilities that have been found within the code. When vulnerabilities are found in the software they are usually kept quiet until an update can be issued to fix the vulnerability. This is why it’s so important to keep up with software updates. If your computer or device is always connected to the internet, it should be updated ASAP. Computers that are not updated are vulnerable and someone with malicious intent can go phishing with emails or a hacked website to try to catch anyone with a vulnerability. Emails promising free money or pictures of celebrities or warning that you might get an IRS audit all garner a few clicks and if the person who clicks has not updated their software, then they can become infected. With so many pieces of software operating in relative harmony on any given computer, there are many opportunities for security holes. This is where anti-virus and malware protection programs come in. Having these programs running will act as a shield if the user does encounter a virus or malware. The problem with these is that a threat has to be documented and added to the definition list then sent to the computer running the protection program. Some threats are unknown or it can take a while to get the definition updated so there are always times when a system is vulnerable. For the best protection against malware:
- Do not open emails that promise free money or anything else that sounds too good to be true.
- Do not open zip attachments from anyone unless you verify that they sent you a file.
- Beware of screen saver files either in emails or from less than stellar websites.
- Be very cautious of any program you download from the internet.
- Keep your browsers updated (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, IE).
- If you have Java on your computer, be sure to keep it updated.
- Adobe Reader, Flash, and Shockwave should always be kept up to date.
- Email clients should be updated if they are not part of the operating system updates.
- When installing updates or any software be sure to read through the installation screens. Even many good software titles will try to load additional software during an install. Java, and all the free Adobe products try to bring along some other title when you install or update them.
- Using an AdBlock program in your browser can also help block some of the phishing advertisements.
Coming soon more information on why you should be concerned with malware, and why would someone want your information.