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You've probably heard of viruses before, but they aren't the only programs that can wreak havoc on your computer.
What is malware?
Malware are malicious pieces of software that can cause all kinds of damage. Malware consists of Trojans and worms that can steal your personal details including your identity and passwords, delete or corrupt files on your computer and use your computer's internet connection to infect others.
Trojans are programs that pretend to be legitimate software but infect the computer when they are opened. Sometimes Trojans are embedded into what appear to be normal programs. At other times you'll get an error message or it'll appear like nothing happens when you open them. Adware and spyware are variations of Trojans that are usually less dangerous, but may be more annoying due to the advertising pop-ups that constantly appear on your computer.
A worm is a piece of code that embeds itself into a file and uses email and instant messaging to spread itself. When activated, a worm's main objective is to spread and ‘worm’ its way through networks and the internet. It usually looks to a computer's email address book and word processing documents to find more targets. Because it's being sent by you, and it's addressed to people you’ve probably sent email to before, it'll look like a legitimate email or instant message.
What damage can malware cause?
Viruses, Trojans and worms often share one or more of the same goals:
- Collect your personal details
Keylogging software, which monitors every keystroke on your computer, may be used to capture your passwords for online tools like banking. Other malware might monitor your browsing habits so advertisers can tailor advertising to you.
- Attack other computers
Some malware creators try to destroy other computers and networks by using lots of infected computers to communicate with the same target at the same time. These are called DDoS (denial of service) attacks, and are usually aimed at large companies such as Microsoft.
- Destroy your computer
Although less prevalent today, viruses that delete files on your computer or even corrupt your whole hard drive still exist.
No matter what it's trying to achieve, malware often sends and receives data from remote computers which slows your connection and eats into your data usage allowance. Depending on what plan you're on, it could mean that you're charged additional usage fees or your internet speed may be temporarily slowed because of usage you didn't know you'd used.
It's not only your internet connection that slows down, malware also slows your computer. Because malware usually runs constantly in the background, the programs and documents you're used to working with become much more sluggish.
What can I do to stay protected?
Here are four ways that you can protect yourself against malware.
- Use anti-virus software
Anti-virus software detects and eliminates viruses, Trojans and worms as they attack and every time you run a system scan. As there are new threats emerging every day, your anti-virus software is only as good as its latest update. We strongly recommend subscribing to an anti-virus program that will keep the virus definitions as up-to-date as possible.
Some anti-virus solutions – like the one included in BigPond Security – also provide built-in adware and spyware scanners. There are free solutions available, but we recommend adopting a paid solution which provides regular and efficient updates to maximise your protection.
- Install the latest security patches for your operating system
Hackers rely on computer users failing to install software patches on their machines, so they create worms and other malware to take advantage of these vulnerabilities. That's why it's important that you keep your operating system and security patches up to date. Simply running an anti-virus program is not enough.
- Don't open suspicious email attachments
Remember that Trojans and worms are disguised as legitimate files. If the email or file seems odd or not what you were expecting, confirm with the sender that it's safe to open.
- Watch out for misleading popup ads
Some troublemakers create internet pop-ups that imitate Windows and Mac error messages. These are usually Trojans and selecting them will activate unwanted adware or spyware on your computer.
What to do if you’ve been subject to malware
If your system is compromised, you’ll need to:
- Completely "rebuild" the operating system and re-install all applications from a secure source (such as the manufacturer's website)
- Restore important information from your secure backups (but only after thoroughly scanning the backups for any sign of infected files)"
How to spot if you’ve been subject to malware?
Malware can infect your computer in the following ways:
- Your computer’s capacity and capability may be slowed – as malware often works in the background
- Your connection and operating speeds on the internet, programs and documents may become sluggish
- Your files may be deleted or be unable to be opened – as some viruses have the ability to delete files and corrupt your hard drive.
- Collect your personal details
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