A common misconception is that a virus and malware are different threats for computer users. However, this could not be further from the truth. The term ‘malware’ is short for ‘malicious software’. Computer viruses are undoubtedly malicious, and therefore fall into the category of malware, just as trojans, rootkits or spyware do. Hackers use malware for any number of reasons, such as to extract personal information to exploit users or to prevent owners from accessing their devices and personal data. You can protect yourself against malware by using a quality anti-malware product.
Remember: Not all malware is a virus, but all viruses are malware.
What does malware look like?
Malware can take various shapes, from something as simple as an annoying weather app popping up constantly on your desktop to a full ransomware lock out screen such as the one below:
Ransomware is the number one threat to home and business users
Ransomware encrypts all of your personal data and may even lock your entire PC. You will be asked to pay a ransom via an anonymous service in order to unlock your computer and even when you pay there is no guarantee that you won’t be blackmailed for more and more money.
Tip: If you find yourself infected with ransomware, please, never pay the ransom. A dollar in the hands of cyber criminals only funds further ransomware development and encourages further attacks. If infected, there are alternative solutions explored below.
How can I prevent malware?
Various methods of malware infection exist. The most common occurs when a user clicks on something malicious thinking it was legitimate, for example, clicking a link in a phishing email or downloading software that is bundled with rootkits.
There are practical steps you can take to prevent malware infections:
Regularly clear your computer of unused files
Out of date applications that you have forgotten will have security vulnerabilities when out of date. These vulnerabilities are the perfect access points for hackers.
Backup all files and your operating system regularly
If your computer is infected with ransomware you can simply restore your files from your most recent backup. Whether you use an external hard drive or a cloud service, keep it updated and always disconnected from your system when you are not transferring files.
Be sure of what you are clicking on
If an email you received has no clear sender, delete it without opening it. If you open an email thinking it is legitimate, consider whether your bank, FedEx or Western Union would really be leading you to a third party site from an unsolicited email. Phishing emails are still one of the most common malware infection methods and one of the most preventable. Check before you click.
If infected with ransomware, do not pay the ransom
Many online sites offer free decrypters to recover your files and can help you in an emergency for free. No More Ransom is an initiative by the National High Tech Crime Unit of the Netherlands’ police, Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre and two cyber security companies – Kaspersky Lab and Intel Security – with the goal to help victims of ransomware retrieve their encrypted data without having to pay the criminals. Anti-malware vendors such as Emsisoft have contributed free decrypters to this service and on their site. They have also covered the removal and identification of ransomware extensively on their security blog.
Run and regularly update a quality anti-malware product such as Emsisoft Anti-Malware, Bitdefender or MalwareBytes. If you regularly use public wifi, consider a complete internet security suite with built in firewall to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks.
As you can see, there are many types of malware and various ways to become infected. However, there are measures you can implement to keep your personal and business data safe. The key is to keep your system clear of unnecessary files, keep all software up to date and most importantly use common sense when clicking on links in emails or on social media.