Computers have revolutionized our lives and made them better in many ways. But they can also provide computer savvy criminals a window into our lives with relative ease. Thus, we must take preemptive steps to protect our privacy and personal data against them, which begins with understanding how they infect our computers, constant vigilance on our part and installing professional antivirus programs to safeguard our computers.
What Is Malware?
Malware is a general term for any malicious software that is installed on your computer or device and transmits information without your knowledge or permission to some third party, often to their benefit. Sometimes, the end result is a simple annoyance, such as pop-up advertising, but most of the time the outcome is very serious from damaging your computer and/or network to identity theft.
You can be a victim of a malware attack through your web browsers, email, your social networks, instant messaging and downloaded files. These are its most common forms:
A computer virus is malware that spreads from one computer system to the next by attaching itself to legitimate files, programs and boot areas of the hard drive. Viruses can be used to gain access to confidential information, corrupt data, spam contacts in your contact list, and record key strokes, including your passwords.
A computer worm is similar to a virus, except that it does not need to attach itself to other programs or files to spread. Instead, it uses security vulnerabilities within a network.
3. Trojan Horses
Similar to the mythical wooden horse used by the Greeks to invade Troy, this deceptive program seems harmless but infects your computer when used. One example of a Trojan horse is a file that appears to be a legitimate software update when it actually is a program designed to harm your computer and/or give access to your personal information.
This is an increasingly popular type of malware. Ransomware will take over your computer and won’t allow you access unless you pay its creator. For example, encrypting all your computer data files to military grade encryption. And you cannot decrypt the files unless you pay their bitcoin account.
Spyware is any program that tracks information about you and sends it to someone else. Cookies, which is the most common form of spyware, are legal and often used to target what advertising is displayed on websites you visit.
Adware is typically free software programs that have ads in them to help pay the creator of the software. Some types of adware can become very annoying, with advertising pop-ups even when you’re not using the software, and can slow your computer down.
This is malicious software that is designed to scare the user into doing something by creating fear or panic. For example, a program that looks like it might be from your antivirus software says you have lots of viruses and need to pay money to them (the fictitious antivirus company) to remove them.
How To to Protect Your Computer Against Malware
There is, unfortunately, no magic program to keep your computer 100% free from malware, but you can take preventative steps to help decrease the risk of being infected.
Step 1: Avoid Spam
At best, it’s an annoyance, but in many instances, this is how various types of malware get transmitted to your computer and/or network. Be particularly careful with emails from individuals or businesses you do not know and ask you to click on a link or download an attachment. If you ever receive a suspicious email from a known friend or family member or business, it is best to contact the individual or business directly for assistance.
Step 2: Limit Access
You may want to limit access to potentially dangerous or inappropriate sites for your children on your home network and limit access to dangerous and time-wasting sites for your employees on your office network. This will mitigate exposure to sites that often transmit various malware. You may also want to set-up your system so only administrators can install new software, etc.
Bonus Tip: With your kids, spend some time with them to help them understand both the wonders and dangers of the Internet in an age-appropriate manner. Be clear your expectations with them and the consequences of disobeying your rules. With employees, make sure you have a clear, written Internet policy, so employees know what they can and cannot do on the Internet while at work.
Step 3: Run Current Anti-Virus Software
It is critical that you run anti-virus software with the latest security updates installed for your operating system (Windows or Mac OS) and for all other programs you use as new vulnerabilities are always being uncovered and exploited. Also, be mindful of programs like Java, Flash, Air, Silverlight, Shockwave, etc. and make sure they are up-to-date too. It is easy to ignore security updates but do so at your own risk. We understand this can be time-consuming and sometimes confusing, which is why we offer a variety of service plans for both the home and office to monitor the health of your computer(s).
Step 4: Back-Up Your Data
Your computer contains a wealth of information, from sensitive, personal information to hundreds of family pictures. Don’t play Russian Roulette with your data. Instead, back it up and give yourself peace of mind that if something every happened, whether malicious or human error, your information is secure. This is, of course, extremely important for businesses too and we can help back-up your most important data from the home and office.
Computers and Beyond Can Help
Maintaining the security and integrity of your home or business computer network is not a one and done situation. It requires regular monitoring and maintenance. The first step is to install a high-quality anti-virus program to protect your computer(s) and to download and install security updates as they become available. We also recommend you have your computers professionally cleaned annually as part of your preventative maintenance as well. If you believe one of your computers has been infected or wish to discuss how you can protect your network, please give us a call at 507-929-3631. We would be happy to assist you!