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What is Malware?

Malware, or malicious software, is any program or file that is harmful to your computer or sensitive information. Malware includes worms, viruses, spyware and trojan horses. These programs can serve a variety of functions, such as stealing, deleting or encrypting sensitive data, hijacking or altering important computing functions and monitoring everything a user does on their computer. It can also spread to other computers on the network, without anyone noticing it until it’s too late.

Malware typically gets into your computer from internet use or email, though it can also be downloaded from websites, games, music, toolbars, software or literally any other download. 

Everything you download is a risk. You never know what is and isn’t infected, and not every anti-virus software will protect you from every threat, so it’s very important you know the warning signs of infection, and what to watch out for before you download.

Warning signs of Malware

There are several ways to spot a potential infection. You should always take note if your operating system or internet speed starts to slow down. Another warning sign of infection is pop-ups. As annoying as they are, an excess amount of them is a pretty good indication that you’re infected. Never click on a pop-up.
Crashes, or blue-screens of death are another thing you should note. If you encounter one of these, think back to the last change you made. If you recently downloaded something, that could be the cause of the problem.

New browser homepage’s, toolbars, or unwanted websites being navigated to without you trying to navigate to them is another sure-fire way to tell your computer has been compromised.

A big way to tell that you’ve been compromised and the infection is trying to spread is if friends or coworkers start to receive strange messages from you. If this happens, make sure to secure your accounts and set very strong passwords immediately, and scan your computer thoroughly.

Finally, losing administrative privileges is a good indication that you’ve been compromised as well. You may lose access to Control Panel, Registry Editor, Command Prompt, or even Task Manager. This may make it impossible to try and scan for the cause of infection, because it will severely limit what you’re able to do. Boot safe mode as soon as possible and close all suspicious tasks before trying to troubleshoot and scan.

Why do People Create Malware?

The internet is a very dangerous place these days, mainly because there is a lot of money to be made by stealing information. Apart from making money and stealing valuable account information, some hackers just do it to cause issues for other people.

Heaps of infections, malware, and spyware found on computers don't hurt it all that considerably, but it will slow it down. This malware is intended to capture data about the user and send it to the hacker or organization who created the malware. The data they gather is then used to target promotions to you. These advertisements come as messages and pop-ups on your computer.

Other people, more destructive individuals, make infections and malware simply because they can. They like to cause inconvenience, and seeing users get frustrated. They create malware that can crash entire networks and cause system outages for huge companies, such as banks or production companies.

These outages can cost companies millions of dollars in lost revenue, stolen credit card information, stolen data, and force them to shut down until the cause of the virus is found and fixed. Even after the virus is removed from the system, they’ll need to find a way to protect against future attacks.

How Dangerous Can Malware be?

Malware is particularly dangerous because there are many forms of attacks. There are typical viruses, trojans, worms, spyware and adware. A virus is any software that could replicate and spread to other computers, or software programmed to damage computers by deleting files, reformatting hard drives or wasting computer memory.

Adware is software designed to display ads when you’re connected to the internet. This brings revenue to the developer while slowing down your computer.
Spyware is hidden software that gathers information on your computer and network and transmits it to the creator. The information gathered can be visited websites, system information, browser information, IP addresses and keystrokes. That’s right, everything you type can be seen by whoever created the virus on your computer. This includes credit card information and any other sensitive information you may type.

For home users, an infection may just be unimportant information that can be replaced quickly and easily, but typically the worst case is the hacker can get your bank information and steal everything.
If you’re infected on a corporate network, this could result in a complete shutdown of the business network, or a total loss of critical business data.

How Can You Protect Against Malware?

There are basic steps that you can take to minimize your risk of getting malware. First off, you should try and keep your software up to date. Software creators such as Microsoft don’t just add things with updates, they also patch potential exploits and backdoors that hackers could exploit.

Secondly, you should make sure you have some sort of effective anti-virus or security software. This will make sure that if you do get an infection, you’ll be alerted and hopefully it can be resolved quickly before anything gets out of hand.

Another important precaution you should take is to make sure your browser of choice has security set up correctly. This includes a pop-up blocker, and protection against unauthorized downloads.

It’s incredibly important to notice the signs of malware before it spreads. If your computer slows down, repeats error messages or crashes, it’s quite probable that you’ve picked up a computer virus. Other warning signs are home pages changing, toolbars you didn’t install, or batteries suddenly draining faster.
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