Not everyone on the internet has your best interests in mind. Malware and viruses are extremely common threats to your computer. Avoiding them takes vigilance along with proper protective software for your computer. But what exactly is malware, and how do you avoid getting viruses on your computer?
We’ve all heard not to click on attachments from people we don’t know, but did you know that some viruses can be launched merely by being viewed from the preview pane in your email viewer!
What are Malware and Viruses?
Malware (short for malicious software) is a general descriptive term for any software that seeks to do things such as damage your computer or collect personal data. A virus is always malware, though malware isn’t always a virus.
A virus is a small line of code that hides in a legitimate program or file. Specifically, it’s code that replicates itself and tries to spread to other computers on the network, much like a biological virus spreads from person to person. One of its favorite methods of replicating itself is sending a copy of itself to everyone in your email address book.
5 Tips to Avoid Viruses and Malware
- Think about what you click
If a banner ad promises you’ve won a free iPad, it’s probably trying to trick you. Free games have to make money somehow. Usually, it’s through advertising, but not always. Remember that if you are not paying for a product, it’s likely that you ARE the product.
- Keep your operating system and all other software are up to date
Updates are important, that’s why so many programs will hound you until you perform them. If your software is not up to date, it may not be able to defend against the latest malware and viruses.
- Use both an anti-virus and anti-malware scanner
As new malware is found it is added to a list of all known malware. These are called “definitions,” and should be updated regularly with whatever anti-virus program you decide to use. Malwarebytes is a great free option you can utilize.
- Do not open unsolicited emails, direct messages, or text messages
Scammers, malware, phishing, and viruses all work through unsolicited communications. If you do not recognize a phone number, name, or email address, do not open the message. Just delete it or ignore it. Pay close attention to email addresses that are made to look very similar to your contact’s email address. You can see an example of that through this link.
- Are your friends on social media behaving strangely?
If you notice that your friends on social media are posting content that seems different from what they normally post, or if they start asking you to give them money, follow unfamiliar links, or if they ask you to download unfamiliar programs or files, it is likely that their account has been hacked. The person on the other end is likely a scammer. You should notify your friend if you have the means to contact them outside of social media and suggest they change their password. You can also report their account so the platform can review it and take action.
Types of Computer Viruses and Malware
Also called scareware, ransomware will lock down your computer until you pay a fee. A recent version of this is the FBI Virus. You will see an official-looking page telling you the FBI has locked your computer and won’t release it until you pay them $300.
In addition to ransomware, phone scammers also use a similar tactic. You can see examples of these phone scams on YouTube where tech-savvy individuals work to close their overseas operations.
Doing exactly as its name says, a keylogger will record everything entered via a keyboard, hoping to catch you doing some online banking or shopping. Keylogging malware aims to acquire your passwords and personal information.
Like its infamous Greek counterpart, a Trojan Horse poses as a legitimate program or game, but once it’s inside your hard drive and has been run… well, it doesn’t end happily.
Including keyloggers and adware, spyware invades your privacy by tracking your internet usage habits. At best it aggressively tailors pop-up ads relevant to your browsing history. At worst it can gather personal information such as credit card information, passwords, or other sensitive data.
Do you get redirected to websites you never intended to go to? Did your homepage change from what you set it to? This could be the sign of a hijacker. These programs will change your browser settings, force you to navigate to web pages you don’t want to, or install toolbars that decrease system performance.
Protecting Yourself Online
Remember to be wary of your online activities, and remember that malware and viruses can 100% infect smartphones as well. Smartphones are becoming a huge target for scams and malware since people are spending more time on them than on traditional desktop computers. Be alert and think critically about what you see online, especially if something claims to be free. Finally, you are always welcome to reach out to us at Webformix if you need help or support. We are always here to help!