Malware is a term used when talking about anything that is on your computer, smartphone, tablet or laptop that shouldn’t be there. It comes from Mal, meaning bad, and ware from the end of the word ‘software’ and there are many different types that can cause you problems. They arrive through emails, from apps (programs) that you might install or simply from websites you might visit, but there are things you can do to help protect yourself.
Install an antivirus program. If you have a computer with Windows 8 or above it will already have Windows Defender installed. This is considered by many to be as good as the other free programs available. Other free options include AVG and Avast and others available from the internet. It could be argued that for the best protection you should purchase one of the many options available on the market – this is open to argument.
Make sure the antivirus updates itself at least once per day. New viruses and malware are being created all the time and your antivirus needs to be up to date.
Allow your antivirus software to scan your computer regularly. Every day is best. This will help to catch any malware that slips in unnoticed – and this does happen.
Be careful when you are on the internet – if you see a banner appear saying something like “Your Computer Is Infected Click Here to Remove” or “Your PC Is running slowly, click here to speed it up” or any offer that is un-asked for then make sure you don’t click on it and ideally leave the site. It might be innocent, but it’s unlikely to give you anything useful.
Be careful when installing programs on your computer. Assuming you are on a legitimate site and downloading genuine software, you might still be faced with a long list of “options” and these can often include installing toolbars “to enhance” your browser (Chrome, IE etc). A few of these toolbars can be useful, but most are simply ways that the software creators can monitor your use of your computer and see what sites you visit. This might not seem a problem but it can be. So untick any options that offer anything you haven’t asked for.
Don’t install pirated software. Many examples, if not most of them, contain unwanted extras that you really don’t want.
If you receive an email that offers some free gift, suggests you click on a link, tells you you have won something, have a tax refund coming, your bank has been frozen, a package couldn’t be delivered . . . . then unless you absolutely know it is ok, delete it – even if it appears to be from someone genuine. It is very easy to fake an email, and we all know the old saying: If it appears to be too good to be true, it probably is.
What Can Malware Do?
Some malware is more annoying than dangerous. It can follow what you are doing and cause advertisements to pop up on the screen. Others might be more dangerous and copy the keys you are typing, sending the information to a server where the thief can thus get hold of your login details for banks and other institutions. The more ‘traditional’ ones can delete files on your computer, even wipe the entire hard drive.
Recently, a new type of malware appeared called ransomeware. This infects your computer and prevents you from using it. A screen appears typically telling you that you have committed some kind of offense – normally visiting a prohibited site or worse – and that you must pay a fee to unlock the PC. Often the page that you see looks like it’s from the FBI or a similar body so you begin to believe it might be true. If you get caught with this, seek help from a professional IT department, it can be fixed.