Dealing with Malware

The following post is from Michelle of Mommy Misadventures:

Virus alert
source: David Fulmer

Do you dread opening your computer because it is inexplicably slow?

Have you stumbled on a website that later rendered your computer unusable from all the popups?

The Internet is full of awesome things to view and download. Unfortunately, it is also full of not-so-great things including the bane of many a computer user’s life: malware.

What is malware?

Malware is short for “malicious software”. It’s basically software written with ill intentions.

There are several types of malware floating around including:

Viruses and Worms

Similar to biological viruses, computer viruses are programs which are self-replicating and are transferred to a new host from an infected host. Worms are similar except rather than being infected via a file, worms can transmit passively from host to host via the network.

Trojans

Trojans work in much the same way as their namesake, the Trojan horse. A user may download what looks to be a legitimate file which is hiding a malicious payload which is later activated.

Spyware

Spyware is malware that tries to get information from your computer. Some spyware can simply be snooping to see what types of sites you visit while others can steal things like passwords, account numbers and personal information.

How does malware get on my computer?

The most common way to get infected by malware is to open a file or to view a website that contains malware. The exception to this would be worms which spread by themselves via the network.

What kind of damage can malware do?

Some malware is just annoying – you know the type, where you’ve got a bazillion pop-up windows that just. Won’t. Close.

Other malware can be downright evil, scanning for personal information and corrupting or even deleting data. Even worse, an infected computer can potentially pass on malware to other computers without the user even realizing it.

How can you to avoid malware?

Here are a few simple steps to avoide getting malware on your system.

Enable your security measures

Recent versions of Windows come well equipped to help discourage malware. Windows Defender and Windows Firewall are two native Windows utilities that help protect your computer from possible malware infection.

Keep your Windows operating system updated

Keeping Windows updated is essential for preventing malware from exploiting weaknesses in the Windows operating system. Windows gives users the option of automatically downloading and installing critical system updates, allowing users to update their operating system painlessly.

Use a malware scanner

While Windows Defender is a malware scanner, adding a third party virus scanner adds an additional layer of protection.

Premium antivirus scanners like Norton Antivirus have always been popular but you can also find free malware scanners like Avast and Spybot Search and Destroy. While free scanners offer good malware protection, premium scanners offer extended features like spam prevention.

Practice safe downloading and browsing

Malware loves to hide in pirated software and media. The same is true for pirated software and adult websites which are often rife with pop ups, pop unders and a million other annoyances that can make your computing life miserable.

Always make sure that any file you download is from a reputable source. Modern web browsers come with good popup blockers that can catch most of them.

Consider bumping your Internet security settings up to high when browsing. Instead of using illegal software, try using a free, open source alternative to an application. Watch your favorite video using licensed streaming outlets like Netflix or Hulu and listen to your favorite music via Internet radio stations like Last.fm and Pandora.

Be wary of attachments and links

Never open links or attachments on either your email or instant messaging program that you are not expecting. Even if it is from someone you know, ask them first if it is legitimate. Malware creators sometimes hack accounts to make a link or file transfer look legitimate when it really isn’t.

What if I have malware on my system?

Despite your best efforts, malware may still find its way onto your system. Don’t panic. You don’t have to live with it.

Allow your malware scanning software to remove it

Most virus and malware scanners have daily updates to their malware definitions and can generally remove whatever malware that it detects.

Remove the malware using a removal tool or find removal instructions.

If your malware scanner is not able to remove the malware (or if you don’t have a malware scanner) you can try to manually remove the offending piece of software by downloading a removal tool online. Though you should be wary as some removal tools are thinly disguised malware themselves. If you choose to download a removal tool, make sure that it is from a reputable site.

Alternatively, you can also search for manual removal instructions which often include not only removing the offending software but also any entries that it may have made in your Windows registry. This is for advanced users only – one mistake can wreck your Windows installation.

When in doubt, find a reputable computer repair specialist to help restore your computer back to its original state.

Note about Macs

A common misconception about Macs is that they are virus proof. This is not exactly true. Anything with an operating system can have a virus written for it.

The widespread popularity of Windows – as well as the fact that it is the corporate standard – means that most malware creators will continue to concentrate their efforts towards Microsoft Windows rather than Mac OS X.

To ensure that your Mac stays nice and virus free, Mac users should take the same precautions that Windows users should: use a reputable Mac-specific malware scanner regularly and practice general safe computing.

It is far better to be safe than sorry.

What malware protection do you use?

Michelle Mista is a former IT professional turned work-at-home mom. She muses about motherhood at Mommy Misadventures. A geek of all trades, she loves computers, video games, photography and coffee and is on the constant quest to balance life, work and geekery.
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