Learning About Malware
For decades now, people have been hearing about computer viruses on the news, on television or in the movies, and from friends. Now, with the internet becoming a vital component of more and more peoples' lives, talk of viruses in escapable. Yet somehow, the term is constantly being confused with others like "worm" and "trojan," or "malware." So what's all the talk really about?
In essence, when the average person is talking about "viruses," what they're really referring to is "malware," a label that encompasses a broad spectrum of software designed to harm a person's computer or to compromise its security. There are numerous forms of malware - from traditional, self-replicating viruses and worms, to trojan horses that disguise themselves as legitimate programs and rootkits that are virtually undetectable - all of which can inflict considerable damage on an operating system. Other, less harmful software, such as spyware that collects information about a user or adware that displays unwanted advertisements, are also considered malware. Put simply, anything that is both "malicious" and "software" is malware.
The wide variety of malware is matched by the countless ways in which it can affect a computer. Executing infected files or opening suspicious e-mail attachments are obvious means of infection, but there are other, less obvious methods as well. Something as simple as visiting a website with a malicious script can lead to an infection. In other cases, an individual doesn't need to do anything other than leave an active internet connection open, which someone can then exploit as a means to install some form of malware. Fortunately, for most people, simply being careful about web browsing and opening unsafe files will prevent serious problems with malware. However, to minimize the risk of infection and maximize security, there are a few things that every internet user should do:
1. Find a decent anti-malware program. Nowadays, anti-virus programs and anti-malware programs tend to do a lot of the same things. Two of the best general anti-malware programs are Malware Bytes' Anti-Malware and avast! anti-virus. Both are free, though avast! offers a premium service that enables many features, including web browser security.
2. Use a firewall. Firewalls protect against external attacks and lessen the chances of an intruder installing malware on your machine. Ideally, you should be using something along the lines of ZoneAlarm or Comodo:
3. Be proactive. Advanced users can take additional steps to protect themselves from malware. Some programs, such as Spybot Search & Destroy, have the ability to immunize against malware threats and prevent them from taking root. Others, like AVG's LinkScanner web browser plugin, scan online search results for threats before you even click on them.
With sound judgment and a working knowledge of the tools at their disposal, internet users need not live in constant fear of malware, and can instead focus on the things that are important to them whilst keeping their computers safe and secure.