What is Malware?

Malware or malicious software includes a range of programs, apps, and software designed to enter a computer uninvited, where they perform tasks ranging from the annoying to the illegal. Common malware programs work to disrupt operation, gather information, utilize the computer’s resources to self-propagate, and display popup ads and other advertising. Each of these malware programs has a name, and they are each used for a different purpose, by different types of people.
In this guide, you will learn about general malware, what it is, and how to get rid of it. In the next articles, you can learn about different types of malware, security risks and vulnerability, and learn more about choosing a quality antivirus program for your computer or device.

What Devices Can Get Malware

All devices running an operating system that allow third party software can be infected with malware. This is important because it means that PlayStations, Xbox, Wii, iPhone, Android, Linux and many other devices can all be infected with malware. If your device is being slow, glitchy, or unresponsive and it’s relatively new, then chances are that if you don’t have a hardware or software glitch, your device is infected with malicious software.

Even more importantly, USB devices and external flash drives can also be infected with malicious software. Malware can be loaded onto a USB flash drive and set to install onto your device as soon as you plug it in.

Types of Malware

There are many types of malware but the two most common are viruses and worms.

What is a Virus – A virus is very simply a program that attempts to replicate itself and infect other computers, files, and devices. For this reason, viruses are frequently found in software and app downloads, even when that software or app functions properly. Many of these programs will attempt to inject themselves into attached hard drives, other files on your drive, and otherwise to propogate themselves on your computer so that you spread them.

What is a Worm – A worm is a malware program that self-propagates by installing itself on a computer (usually through security flaws) and then uses a network connection to install itself on any possible connected computers. In some cases, you will see visible evidence of this connection, when a worm sends messages to all of your friends. In other cases, it will just use your bandwidth and you might not even know it’s there.

Types of Hidden Malware

Hidden malware includes a range of file types like viruses, rootkits, trojan horses, backdoors, and evasion. Importantly, many viruses actually use more than one of these techniques.

Rootkit – A Rootkit is designed to prevent a malicious program from showing up in the list of installed programs, from being detected by the computer, from being removed, and from being detected by the antivirus. Rootkits can also reinstate deleted viruses as soon as you’ve uninstalled them, which can make deletion very difficult. Because Rootkits can be very difficult to remove, you sometimes need professional help with doing so, however, resetting your computer with a backup will often work.

Trojan Horse – A Trojan Horse is any virus that appears to be a useful and functioning program, but is in fact malicious software. These files can also be found in attachments, downloads, and other files. Most are designed to install backdoors, but some are keyloggers, or contain other types of malware.

Backdoor – A Backdoor happens when a malicious program on your computer or device installs a ‘back door’ to your computer to install other malicious programs. You can think of this like a hole in your firewall that lets viruses in.

Ransomware – Ransomware takes control of your computer and typically requires that you pay a fee or a fine to get rid of it. Ransomware may lock you out of your computer, or encrypt your files. The only real way to combat this is to keep regular backups on a device that isn’t connected to your computer, so that you can rescue your data after resetting your computer.

Potentially Unwanted Programs – Potentially unwanted programs are any program that either does not have a company signature, is not approved by your app store, or uses spam advertising techniques such as pop-ups, forced viewing and similar. In some cases these programs are harmless and useful, in other cases they are adware.

Adware and Spamware – These programs exist to show you ads and can be trojans, viruses, malware, or almost any other type of program. If you are getting popups, you probably have adware or spamware.

How to Recognize Malware Programs

Malware programs can slow your computer down, slow down your Internet, and interfere with your normal usage of your computer. They can be seen in popups, found if your computer is constantly slow, and can send messages to all of your friends with links. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes difficult to find out if you have a malware infection or not.

Preventing Malware

  • Use an antivirus program with a firewall (AVG is a great free option for Windows, Android, and OSX)
  • Scan all downloaded files before installing them
  • Scan all USB devices before using them
  • Update your computer regularly
  • Install a link scanner like McAfee Link Scanner or an or AVG Internet Security to check websites before you click on them.
  • Don’t download programs from sites you don’t know without first verifying the site
  • Read reviews on programs, downloads, and other files before downloading them
  • Don’t click on links in weird or generic messages your friends send you without first verifying that it isn’t a virus