Malware got its name from the term “malicious software.”
Malicious software is designed to make its way into your computer system and cause significant damage to it without your knowledge or consent. Malware will log your keystrokes, steal your passwords, observe your browsing choices, spawn pop-up windows, send you targeted email, redirect your web browser to phishing pages, report your personal information to distant servers, and serve up pornography.
The more common forms of Malware are Viruses, Worms, Trojans, Adware and Spyware. The most common way for these to make their way to your computer is via the web but can also be transferred through e-mail, instant massages, disks, CDs and USB drives.
Viruses are malicious programs that rewrite existing computer code on your computer. Classic viruses are not so much unwanted additions to your system as they are mutations of existing code that makes your computer operate improperly.
Trojans, or Trojan Horses, are additions to your system. These malicious programs masquerade as legitimate files in your email, deceiving you into willfully adding them to your hard drive. Trojans rely on you to intentionally open your computer to them. Once on your machine, Trojans function as independent programs that operate secretly, stealing your passwords or overloading your system.
Worms, or Internet Worms, are also unwanted additions to your system. Worms are different from Trojans because they copy themselves without your direct assistance and robotically worm their way into your email, and begin broadcasting copies of themselves without permission. Because they do not require user intervention to reproduce, worms reproduce at an alarming rate.
Adware and Spyware
Adware and Spyware are cousins to trojans, worms, and viruses. These programs "lurk" on your machine. Adware and spyware are designed to observe your Internet habits and then pummel you with advertising, or to report back to their owners via secret messages.
Steps to Protect Your Computer
While it’s not important to know the difference between each of these, it is important to know what steps to take to defend against these malware infections. Below are 5 necessary steps to protecting your computer from infection.
- Invest in an anti-virus program. The two most popular programs are from McAfee and Symantec. Both offer home solutions on their websites for purchase and download. Both also offer regular updates to handle newly discovered viruses.
- Update your Operating System at least once a month. For Windows users visit here: windowsupdate.microsoft.com and for Mac users follow these guidelines.
- Don't click on any email attachments from sources you are not 100% sure of. Even if you are confident in its source, scan it before opening it.
- Don't open any file received via instant messenger without scanning it first and verifying from the person who sent it that they intended to transmit a file to you.
- Stay away from peer to peer file sharing networks such as Napster, Limewire or Bit Torrent. These networks don’t connect through a shared server and therefore have a higher probability of containing and sending malware.