The term malware is short for malicious software and refers to computer programs, macros or scripts which are designed to infect as many computers as possible and which lie in wait for the unwary computer user.
The First Viruses
Falling into the malware category are computer viruses, trojan horses, spyware and a number of others. The first computer viruses were written and propagated as malicious pranks by the digital equivalent of vandals who destroy property that does not belong to them, for the enjoyment of it.
These viruses ranged from the relatively benign, but inconvenient, to ones which would attempt to destroy the data on any computer where they could gain a foothold. It was not long however, before viruses and other malicious programs began to be designed for much more sinister purposes.
Taking Control of your Computer
The aim behind many of these was to take control of the computers they managed to infect and turn them into members of vast networks of computers, or botnets, to send out spam e-mails, without the knowledge of the computers’ owners. Another use for botnets was to launch attacks on website servers and, by overwhelming them with traffic, deny normal users access to those websites.
Another broad category of malware is known as spyware and includes programs that install themselves and accomplish a number of tasks ranging from eavesdropping on the user’s activities and recording such details as passwords and usernames, for transmission to the spyware originator, to displaying unwanted and intrusive advertising.
An unprotected computer can be infected with malware by accessing a previously infected CD-ROM or DVD data disc , a flash disk, a web page with malicious code or even an infected data file such as a document containing macros. Some malware can install itself automatically on a target computer but the majority needs to be triggered and it is designed to trick the user into doing so.
Computer security experts all recommend a multi-layered defence against malware which includes the use of an antivirus and anti-malware program which is able to detect and warn the user if a malware program tries to install itself, scan for infected files and remove existing malware. Some of the available security programs are discussed in An Overview of Top 5 Anti-Virus Programs
New Ways to Attack
Malware authors are constantly coming up with new ways to attack and infect computer systems and the producers of security software are only able to configure their products to protect against them once computers become infected and they are detected.
Malware often exploits flaws in operating systems and web browsers to install itself and experts recommend therefore, that users always keep their software up to date in order to take advantage of the improved security incorporated in them.
The sad fact is that many users continue using out-dated software which increases their risk enormously and it is advised that all users make a point of using the automatic update facility that operating systems and browsers now contain.
The next most important way of ensuring that you do not become a malware victim, is to be aware of attempts to trick you into running a program or piece of code which will install malware on your system.
This process is known as social engineering and can come in many forms including messages which pop up on your screen, telling you that you have a virus and that if you will just click OK, the program will scan your computer and remove it for you. In fact, as you may have guessed, clicking OK will install malware on your computer and you may end up losing vital information or facing a demand for you to pay to remove the program you have just installed.
Other ruses include malicious attachments with e-mail messages and it is highly recommended that you never click on an attachment unless you know the sender and you are expecting that attachment. Remember that, even if you know them well, it is always possible that malware has infected the sender’s machine and has sent messages with a malicious payload to everyone in their address book.
Very Good Advice
When receiving an unexpected attachment, it pays to check that the apparent sender really did send it to you. One security site contains the very good advice “when in doubt, throw it out”.
Protecting Against Malware Attacks is a multi-layered process consisting of the use of a security software package, keeping your Internet browser and operating system right up to date, and being on the lookout for attempts to trick you into running a program that installs malware on your system.