Malware 101

As if viruses themselves aren’t enough to worry about these days, there are plenty of other nasty things floating around the Internet.  Let’s discuss very briefly what these are, in general, and what you can do to protect yourself.  As well as, how to respond should you become a victim.

What is Malware? – Most people refer to anything “infecting” their PC as a virus.  However, viruses, trojans, spyware, worms, ransomware, scareware and just anything in general designed to cause harm to your PC or it’s data are all forms of malware.  Malware is short for “malicious software”.

What is a Virus? – Viruses are programs or code specifically designed to infect PCs.  They spread throughout the PC and even from one PC to another.  Typically, viruses are just designed to wreak havoc and break things.  In recent years there have been lots of news about some of the bigger virus threats.  Some of these are so destructive they will render your PC inoperable.  This can make repair very expensive or result in repair not being an option.

What is Spyware? – Spyware are programs designed to steal your information.  Spyware doesn’t cause damage like viruses.  Instead, it will sit on a PC quietly stealing information while not causing any attention to itself.  Spyware will capture your keystrokes as you type or log your computer usage and send this information back to the Spyware creator.  Once the personal information is gathered the thief can use this in nefarious ways which can cause you a ton of aggravation and expense in getting it resolved.

One thing most people do not realize is not all antivirus programs are good at catching spyware.  It usually takes a trained technician with a bag of tricks and tools to catch these things and get them removed properly.

What is Scareware? – Scareware is cleverly designed to look like legitimate software warnings to get the user to “buy” a fix for a problem.  Typically, the user will get a popup about their PC being infected with hundreds of infections and offer to remove these by buying a fake antivirus program.  The user may click on the fake program to purchase it which will result in the user paying for the infection and getting nothing in return.  This particular malware will cost you twice as much if you buy the fake software then find that you have to pay a real company to get it repaired.

My advice would be to always allow your trusted IT solutions provider to repair infections or you may end up paying a lot more than you bargained for.  With services like Remote Support (which we offer), these infections can be cleaned up without you having to take the time and endure the aggravation of unhooking your PC to take it in for service nor do you have to invite a technician into your home for hours to get your PC repaired.

What are Trojans? – Trojan horses are software that look like they are doing something routine, but secretly have malicious code that does something else. In many cases, Trojans will create a backdoor that allows your PC to be remotely controlled, either directly or as part of a network of computers also infected with a Trojan. The major difference between a virus and a Trojan is that Trojans don’t replicate themselves—they must be installed by an unwitting user.  Many times these are installed by users clicking on links in email or using file sharing programs.  One obvious sign you are infected with a Trojan is when your email contacts are getting junk mail which is coming from you or appears to be coming from you.  After all, your friends are more likely to click on a link from you (which will infect their computers).

What are Worms? – Computer worms use a network to send copies of themselves to other PCs.  Worms usually utilize a security hole to travel from one PC to the next, often automatically without user intervention. Because they can spread so rapidly across a network, infecting every PC in their path, they tend to be the most well-known type of malware, (although many users still mistakenly refer to them as viruses).  Some of the more popular worms have been credited with slowing down the entire Internet for a period of time, defacing hundreds of thousands of websites and the famous Blaster Worm of just a few years ago caused infected PCs to reboot repeatedly.

Combating worms is a part of why services like our Patch Management (part of our Remote Monitoring and Management packages) is so important.  As a business with several computers, one worm can infect your entire network in seconds, multiplying the cost for remediation tremendously.

What is Ransomware? – The newest edition to the malware family, Ransomware is yet another innovation of technology thieves out to make money… not just cause problems.  Ransomware will infect a user’s PC, then look for important data to steal (financial data, family pictures, company files, etc.) and send back to the thief.  Once your data is removed from your PC, it is then held for ransom.  Other ransomware will lock down your PC and display a fictitious warning which threatens criminal proceedings within 48 hours – usually for unspecified copyright offenses.  Of course, they say the threats can be made to go away if you just pay money… typically $200 or more.  Whether or not paying the money will give you your computer back is an extreme gamble.

So what can you do to protect yourself?  First, make sure you have a really good antivirus software such as the one we sell (and monitor).  If you can’t afford it at this time, and you are not a business, you can look at a couple of free antivirus packages out there, such as Avast and AVG.  These are decent but should not be considered a high level of protection.  If you have a business or network I would not recommend using any of the free programs out there.  Many times the free antivirus versions are not legal to use in a commercial environment.  The cost of catching just one infection will pay for your investment in antivirus many times over.  There are thousands of new malware on the Internet every week.  Even a few days without up-to-date software can result in a big problem.

Second, keep all your software updated.  Infections will come through security holes which can be patched by updating regularly.

Lastly, be vigilant.  If you’re not sure about a link or an email, don’t click on it.  If something pops up on your screen, don’t click on things you are not sure of or you can make a bad situation worse.

What if I get infected? – I deal with clients all the time who have tried to remove an infection themselves or allowed someone that is a “computer genius” to try to remove them.  Only to end up with a huge mess, and in some cases, unrecoverable data loss.  Properly removing infections can sometimes be an art form and certainly should be done through proven processes with an extreme emphasis on protecting and preserving your data.  I highly recommend using a trusted, qualified IT professional for these tasks.

If you don’t have a trusted IT professional, I invite you to give Carolina Computer Concepts a try.  This article does not touch on every viral process but is meant to give a general understanding of the most common infections.  Thanks for reading!


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