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How To Avoid Viruses, Malware And Trojans

September 30, 2016

What is malware?

Malware stands for “malicious software” and can take many forms. It’s usually downloaded to your computer without your knowledge and can do many things such as:

  • Track your online behaviors
  • Log your keystrokes in order to steal passwords & credit card information
  • Lock down a user’s computer or data and
  • Demand a ransom to restore functionality

What You
Should Know

Malware takes millions of forms and can wreak havoc on your computer.

What You
Can Do

Avoid clicking on suspicious emails or links and keep software updated.

Man talking to female while looking at a computer screen to illustrate how to avoid viruses and trojans

How prevalent is malware today?

Malware is serious business. Cyber security firm Symantec reports the following stats:

  • There were over 431 million new malware variants released in 2015.1
  • 362,000 of those were ransomware (malware used to demand a ransom).1
  • Over 1 million cyber attacks happen to people every day.1
  • 1 in 3,172 websites has malware that could infect visitor’s computers or phones.1
1 in every 220 emails contained malware in 2015.1

What are the most common types of malware?

  • Viruses are malicious programs that infect computers. They’re usually spread via email attachments, links in emails, or unsecured websites that can download the virus to any computer that visits the website. Viruses deliver payloads that can be extremely harmful and destructive such as ransomware, which locks people out of their computers and data.
  • Trojan Horses (usually called “Trojans”) are stand-alone programs that do not self-replicate or spread on their own. They’re usually delivered inside seemingly legitimate programs or downloads. They often execute functions like “key logging” that give cyber criminals access to passwords and other personal information.
  • Ransomware is a type of malware that is quickly gaining popularity because of its effectiveness at generating profits. It works by either locking the user out of their computer or encrypting a user’s files and data. User must pay to regain access to their systems, networks and data—usually between $200—$400.
  • Worms are stand-alone programs that spread from one computer to another on a network without user intervention or action. Worms slow down or stop computers and networks by continuously replicating until they use up all available computing power.
  • Adware and spyware are common browser-based infections that are generally not as dangerous as worms, Trojans and viruses. Adware overwhelms users with unwanted advertising and spyware tracks users online behavior.

How does malware spread?

  • The most common way is through an email that contains a link or attachment that users click on, downloading the payload that infects the computer.
  • Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing programs often infect users with malware.
  • Spoof websites will often dupe you into clicking a box to download “required software.” If you click “Yes,” it installs the malware onto your machine.

How to avoid malware:

  • Always keep your computer’s software and operating system up to date.
  • Install antivirus (AV) software and use it to scan incoming files before you open or save them. Scan outgoing files before sending them to another computer or user.
  • Backup software files, data, and programs frequently to a separate drive or use a cloud service that backs up your data as it is created.
  • Scan all removable media such as USB drives with AV software before opening or accessing any of the files on that media.
  • Do not open suspicious emails or attachments that you are unsure of.

How do I know if I’ve been infected?

While you can’t always tell if you’ve fallen victim to malware, common symptoms of an infection include:

  • Your computer begins to act strangely, such as sending unusual alerts or shutting down unexpectedly.
  • Files or data are suddenly unavailable or show unexpected changes.
  • Your computer becomes extra slow, unstable or inaccessible.
  • You get lots of pop-up ads when you browse the Internet.

What should I do if I’m infected?

  • Stop working on the computer or device as soon as you notice a sign of infection.
  • Disconnect your computer from the internet (this prevents the attacker or virus from accessing your computer, locating personal data, manipulating or deleting files, or turning your computer into a “bot” to spread the virus).
  • Update your AV software then restart your computer in “Safe Mode” before running a system scan using your AV software.
  • Go online and find a reputable “on-demand” virus scanner and run it.
  • If these steps do not work, it may best to have your computer looked at by a professional who specializes in your brand of computer.
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