By Mark Falanga
It seems that computer viruses are having a renaissance of sorts. In the past week alone, it was found that Chinese malware infected The Wall Street Journal and beleaguered The New York Times for the last four months. If companies as large as these can get hacked without knowing, what chance do you have? The following will provide you with tips on how to stay away from malware and what to do if it’s too late.
But first, to defend yourself against malware, you have to know what it is. Malware is short for “malicious software,” and is a broad based term for any software created to do damage or do other unwanted actions on a computer. Respective kinds of malware all have distinct characteristics and do different damage to your computer.
Photo by ph0rk.
Arguably, the most well-known type of malware is the computer virus. The virus spreads by attaching itself to a seemingly innocent program then replicating itself once the program is open or used. The one seemingly positive aspect of having a computer virus is that it can only spread by human action, meaning that a person needs to actively transfer it to another machine, such as with e-mail or onto a portable storage device.
A computer worm acts just like a virus, with the exception that it does not need another program to open or human action to duplicate. Their sheer reproductive capability is what makes computer worms dangerous, as they eat up disk space and memory of entire servers.
While these malware types are obvious upon entry into the system, some malware disguises itself as useful before it is loaded into your computer. This type of malware is called a Trojan Horse. Much like its historical ancestor, a Trojan settles into your system disguised as another program, lies dormant, and then activates automatically, crippling your computer. It can erase your files, put a lock on them, or even cause the hacker to gain free entry into your computer. Some Trojans will activate false warning screens on your computer saying that the only way to restore your system is to pay in upwards of $300. These types of Trojans are called Ransomeware, which were once only found in Eastern Europe, but are now spreading across the Atlantic.
So what do you do if you have one of these types of malware? As always, the first step is prevention. According to PCMag.com, the best anti-virus programs are Bitdefender AntiVirus Plus 2013, Norton AntiVirus 2013, and Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus 2013. While these will protect you from malware, they won’t protect your wallet, as they cost anywhere generally from $19.99 to $39.99, with a number of softwares falling above that margin. If you have no budget for security, that’s not a problem as long as you download AVG Anti-Virus Free 2013. PCMag.com notes that it scores better than some of the paid services in malware removal and is the editor’s choice for 2013.
Another approach you can take is to store all files on either an external hard drive or in cloud storage. Sites such as Dropbox offer anywhere between two to 18 gigabytes of free storage that you can access anywhere. If your computer should fall victim to malware, simply reformat, while all of your important files stay safe.
In the future all computer users will need at least some basic protection, even if you just use your computer to browse the web and shop online. It’s been reported that mainstream websites are 21 times more likely to contain malware than illegal file sharing websites. So be wary of what you click, because in the digital realm, you might get more than you bargained for.