Malware. It’s a nice buzzword, but does everyone really know what it is?
Simply put, malware is a type of software that is specifically designed to disrupt your computer’s operation or gather sensitive data about you. Put it this way, if the National Security Agency is using tactics to gather data on you while being on the Internet, you can bet that businesses and even criminals are certainly doing it. Many businesses actually outright admit they do.
However, most of the time when discussing malware, we are talking about programs that infiltrate your computer and basically give you a headache. Ever sit down to your computer and notice that your homepage is now some unknown search engine? How about seeing a new toolbar on your browser along with the other eight tool bars you had previously? Do you type in things into your browser’s address bar that simply keep routing you back to the same website? If so, congratulations! You are infected with malware.
So the question is, “How did I get this garbage?” The answer is, of course, you did not go looking for malware, but the malware found you. Even legitimate websites like Google, Microsoft and even your online banking sites can have infected pages. Land on those pages, and the next thing you know you are in browser hijack mode. There is no warning sign ahead of time other than your antivirus software, and usually that only works if you have an anti-malware feature with it. Even then, sometimes you just get malware.
Malware comes in so many forms that you may not visually see any of the things mentioned earlier. However, you might begin to notice a massive slowdown in your browsing, computer starting up, periodic freezes of your mouse pointer, or your hard drive light constantly on. If you have those symptoms, you most definitely have malware, or some sort of virus. Whenever all these things happen, there is something you can do.
The very first thing you should do is disconnect from the Internet. The reason for that is, you could be spreading the malware without you even knowing it. Also, if the malware is gathering information about you, disconnection stops the flow of data. Next, you will need to scan your computer either with your resident software, or download and install it. Yes, if you do not have another computer available to download the software, you have no other choice but to connect the machine and download a cleaning program.
One program I have found to be the most effective is Malwarebytes. This program is used by IT professionals just about everywhere and for good reason. For one, the software is free, and second, the updates are free as well. Malwarebytes does an excellent job of scanning your computer, as well as any external drives for viruses. Scans can take anywhere from a few minutes, or up to an hour or more depending on how many objects are on your machine. A good idea is after the initial scan, run another scan just to be doubly sure you got it all.
A final thing you can do to avoid getting malware on your computer, is to be vigilant on what you download. For example, you might be downloading some type of document program, and during the installation, they will have a small check box next to something that says, “Install XYZ Instant Search.” If you do not catch this, you just installed malware, and that’s what the perpetrators are hoping for. Yes, I know that we all, including myself, typically blindly click through the “next, I agree, next” on an install, but if it is something you are downloading from the Internet, please be aware of things such as these.
Now that you know what malware is, how and what it can do to you and how to combat it, you can rest a bit easier having a new tool in your arsenal. Consider the alternative that some national electronics chains will charge you anywhere up to $200 or more to rid you of malware, when you can do it for free and just some of your time.
HUNTER BONNER is an Information Technologist. He can be reached via Twitter at @HunterBonner and via his blog at techedgeblog.wordpress.com.