What is malware?

Unfortunately, just like humans, computers can get sick. Malware is like the flu but for computers—whether that be your laptop, phone, or any other smart device.

Malware can take many different forms from being a silent, sabotaging ninja to being a tank—mowing down everything in its path.

However, thankfully, with some knowledge and preventive “medicine,” you can help safeguard your computer from Malware attacks.

Malware (Malicious Software) Definition

First, what is Malware? At its base, it is a malicious program or code aimed at harming your computer in some way.

Malware is designed to break into your computer and damage, disable, steal, or just troll the user. Just like how the flu disrupts normal human functions, malware will disrupt your computer’s normal functions.

Unlike the flu, malware has an agenda behind it such as ransoming your data, stealing sensitive information, keeping you from getting any work done, and more. Whatever it is, one thing remains true—it’s bad.

How to Know if Your Computer Is Infected by Malware

Sometimes it can be hard to know if your computer is just getting old, or if it is infected by malware. However, there are eight signs that you can look for:

  1. Computer Crashes or Freezes—This is a sign that something is wrong with your computer and the culprit could very well be malware.
  2. Loss of Disk Space—If you find that your disk space is suddenly being used up, then it could be because a malware program has just installed itself into your device.
  3. Computer Slows Down—Malware feeds off of your computer and needs its power to operate. So, if you notice that your computer is a lot slower than usual, then it could be the result of malware gorging itself in the background.
  4. Antivirus Software Shuts Down—If your antivirus software is not working or was turned off, then it is very possible that malware is the culprit.
  5. Browser Settings Change—If your browser settings changed or you notice different plugins/extensions were installed, then it could be because you unintentionally downloaded malware.
  6. Access to Your Files or Computer Have Been Taken Away—Ransomware will typically take something of value from you and will demand money in return for your data or access to your computer’s systems.
  7. Spike in Internet Activity—Oftentimes, malware will download itself onto your computer. As a result, it uses up your internet and can lead to slower internet speeds.
  8. Pop-up Ads Take over Your Screen—If you notice a spike in pop-up ads, then you may have a type of malware infecting your computer called “adware.”

How Does Your Computer Get Malware?

Unless someone goes the old fashion route by installing malware onto your computer via a physical USB drive, then you’ll find that most malware comes from the internet.

Malicious emails, ads, websites, and more can all be a gateway for malware to infect your computer. Even legitimate websites may unintentionally have malicious ads or were hacked—giving malware free reign over others’ information.

For phones, apps and random texts with links are two common forms of how malware can infect your device.

Types of Malware

There are many different types of malware, but the 10 most common types are:

  1. Ransomware—Takes valuable data from you or locks you out of your device and then proceeds to ransom your data or device access back to you.
  2. Malicious Cryptomining—Uses your computer’s power to mine cryptocurrency and send it back to the malware’s owner.
  3. Trojan—Disguises itself as something desirable or valuable so that you end up installing it onto your device. Once installed, those behind the trojan can steal valuable data such as your financials.
  4. Virus—Attaches itself to a program on your computer and then proceeds to replicate itself and infect other programs.
  5. Adware—Typically uses a web browser to continually hound you with advertisements to trick you into installing a more deadly or damaging malware.
  6. Spyware—Spies on your activities and reports its findings to its creator.
  7. Worms—Similar to viruses but can spread across systems on their own, whereas viruses require an action from the user in order to infect a system.
  8. Keylogger—Records the user’s keystrokes to gather sensitive information such as passwords, credit card details, and more.
  9. Exploits—Seeks out vulnerabilities in a system to give the attacker access or to plant malware.
  10. Rootkit—Gives the attacker control over your system.

How to Remove Malware

The best way to remove malware is to go on the offensive. First, you’ll want to download a good anti-malware/cybersecurity program.

Next, you’ll want to have the anti-malware program scan your computer for any malicious software. If the program finds any malware, it will then proceed to remove it from your device.

Lastly, once your computer is malware free, you’ll want to change all your passwords as, even though the malware is gone, it is very likely that it sent your personal data to its creator. So, it is critical that you change your passwords before they are used against you.

How to Protect Against Malware

Prevention is always the best medicine and so when it comes to protecting your computer against malware, there are many preventive measures you can take:

  • Use strong and unpredictable passwords
  • Avoid sketchy sites that, for example, have multiple download buttons and pop-ups
  • Don’t open email attachments from unknown senders
  • Avoid clicking on pop-up ads
  • Keep your devise and browser up to date
  • Backup your data regularly to avoid losing it to malware
  • Only download official and vetted apps
  • Download a cybersecurity program that will actively scan and block any threats

When it comes down to it, avoid any unknown sources that do not have a track record. Usually, sites or programs with many users are a safer bet than sites or programs with few or no users.

Final Thoughts

All in all, malware is a very real and common threat that can be hard to spot. Most malware will operate in the background and can be hard to identify. However, there are common signs you can look for and a good cybersecurity program should be able to identify such threats.

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