Malware is like that guy in the heist movies who cuts the chain link fence and holds it open for his criminal buddies to slip through. It can do quite a bit of damage on its own, but the more serious threat comes from what–and who–it allows access to. With more malware than legitimate software on the internet these days, it’s more important than ever to know how to recognize and avoid it. So without further ado, here’s some essential information for dealing with malware on your computer.
Q: What Exactly Is Malware?
A: The term “malware” is a blanket term that covers everything from trojan viruses to keyloggers. Short for “malicious software”, it’s designed by shady programmers to do harm to or collect unauthorized information from end users. In some forms, malware can take total control of your computer, using it to perform tasks remotely on behalf of its master.
Q: How Do I Recognize It?
A: Because malware is a blanket term, it comes in many different forms. Most often, it attempts to disguise itself as something useful, like a toolbar, game, or (ironically) as an antivirus program. Usually, a misspelled or incorrectly capitalized program name is a dead giveaway that the program is bogus; however, a lot of well-disguised malware can appear perfectly legitimate.
The surest way to detect malware is to have a good antivirus program in place, but there’s also a nifty little website you can use to check on the validity of a program you don’t recognize. Should I Remove It? offers an easy way to search program names to reveal their true nature.
Q: How Do I Avoid It?
A: It’s harder than it sounds. Most articles on the subject only cover what to do after you’ve already been infected, but don’t offer much in the way of advice for avoiding it in the first place. That’s because most people don’t even realize they have malware on their system until it starts freezing up or behaving unnaturally, a symptom that can occur weeks or even months after the initial infection.
When you’re installing a new program on your computer, pay attention to everything it’s asking to install. Many developers now include other software bundled with the program you want, and you have to manually opt out of downloading the extra software. Usually this can just be done by unchecking a box (such as “do you want to install ____?”) during the install process. Always opt out of installing toolbars or registry cleaners–9 times out of 10, they will be malware.
There are some websites that can infect your computer just by visiting them. Web of Trust is a helpful browser addon that can let you know if the website you’re about to visit has a bad reputation. Install it, then reopen your browser to start surfing more safely.
Q: How Do I Get Rid of It?
A: Your (legitimate) antivirus program should be able to detect and remove most malware. But for more serious infections, and for certain types of malware, you might need to take more extreme measures. Malwarebytes is a fantastic (and free!) tool for removing some of the worst infections.
The best line of defense you have against malware is vigilance. Staying on top of things will prevent malware from doing serious damage to your system, or from stealing your information and sending it to those with ill intent. Remember, investing in your computer’s safety doesn’t just help protect your computer–it also helps protect your sensitive information.