The mere sound of the word makes us feel uncomfortable, but what does it mean? What makes malware such a major risk in today’s online world compared to previous years, and are standard antivirus solutions even viable in case of malware infection? We’re about to dive in the shady waters of online security but when we’re done, you’ll have a better idea of the risks you face and how you can mitigate them with a few good safety practices and some protective software. After all, we don’t want our private information leaking out to the World Wide Web. Who needs a headache like that?
Malware Basics: What Is It and What Does It Do?
We’re all familiar with the term software. It describes the programs that run on your hardware (computer). In the case of malware, the ‘soft’ part is replaced with ‘mal’, standing for malicious pieces of code that can run on your computer. This is a broad term that encompasses quite a few types of digital threats, including viruses, trojan horses, worms, rootkits and more. These types of infections usually have one of the following outcomes:
- Recording everything you type on your keyboard in order to discover your passwords and logins to your bank account.
- Stealing your personal information for the purpose of identity theft.
- Locking up your computer and demanding ransom for its release.
- Your computer will become slower and will crash more often.
- You will be targeted with illegal marketing (spam)
- Browser hijacking that will direct you to websites you don’t want to visit, including harmful and/or adult websites.
How to Avoid Malware
Luckily, the internet isn’t necessarily the wild west many make it out to be. By being watchful of how you browse the internet, you can reduce your exposure to these types of threats. Please note that the following list is ranked in order of importance, with the first few measures covering a wider range of threats.
- Install a top-tier antivirus from a known developer (it’s very common for malware to disguise itself as an antivirus or antimalware product in order to fool you, so beware).
- Don’t download anything from a website you don’t know and trust.
- Never provide your information online. This is a tough one, because many services, such as banking, are moving online. The best approach here is to be very selective about the services you take online.
- Don’t click on suspicious links, especially when they’re coupled with an offer that may seem too good to be true.
- If your browser warns you that the website you are attempting to visit is insecure, don’t proceed.
- Do not click any links sent to you in an email, especially when you are asked to log in somewhere.