Malware, short for malicious software, refers to malicious computer programs that install themselves on a PC without the user’s consent or knowledge and can cause considerable amounts of damage.
The term ‘malware’ actually refers to multiple types of malicious software, including:
Protecting Against Malware
It is essential users protect their computers against malware to prevent damage to data and for keep their information secure and confidential.
The key to protecting a computer is to educate users, install antivirus software and keep software up to date with security updates.
Malware and viruses should be removed quickly from an infected computer before a virus is given the chance to spread to other computers.
What is a Virus?
A PC virus is a malicious computer program designed to reproduce itself and spread to another computer.
A virus can only spread to another PC by being transferred there. This can be done in a variety of ways:
By being sent via email / instant message etc.
By being physically transferred by USB stick, CD/DVD etc.
By infecting files on a network that are accessed by other PCs on the network
Viruses can damage computer data, have a negative impact on the computer’s performance and reduce network speed.
Some viruses are obvious to users whilst others run in the background and are effectively invisible and harder to identify.
Differences Between Viruses and Worms
Viruses are often confused with worms. Both types of malware can cause damage to computer systems. However, a worm exploits security vulnerabilities in software and operating systems to install itself on a computer, unlike viruses which need to be transferred between machines to spread.
Viruses are also frequently confused with Trojans. However, the major difference is Trojan horses are not self-replicating. A Trojan cannot spread from computer to computer, the only way it can be installed is for the user to inadvertently install the program either by downloading a file, opening an email attachment or visiting a website with executable content.
A Trojan horse enables unauthorised access to a computer system by a hacker. Once installed on a PC, hackers can access the system and perform various tasks including:
-Installing unwanted software
-Deleting / modifying files
-Keylogging (logging which keys are pressed and being able to see what is being typed)
The process of phishing is used to obtain user’s information without their consent. Typically this can include usernames, passwords, bank details and credit card numbers.
Phishing is normally done by users receiving an email that appears to be from a trusted source (e.g. their bank) the email is designed with the same branding as the bank would use to fool the user into believing it is legitimate. However, when clicking on the link the user is taken to a website to enter their details. Although the website may also look like their bank’s website, it is in fact a fake.
The most efficient way to avoid becoming a victim of a phishing attempt is to educate users to understand phishing and how to recognise it. Emails asking for any personal or financial information should always be verified by contacting the company concerned to ensure it is legitimate.
Link manipulation is a common tool used by phishers, the process involves making a link look like a well known web address. However, when the user clicks on it, it sends them somewhere completely different. This type of attack can be avoided by typing the known URL of the company into an internet browser rather than clicking on the link.
Many modern internet browsers also include anti-phishing filters that alert users when a website is suspected of being a phishing site.
Spyware Protection and Prevention
Spyware installs on computers to collect information about users. As well as collecting information about internet surfing habits and using keyloggers to gain passwords, spyware can also install other malware without the user’s knowledge.
Spyware often affects Internet browsing by changing homepages, altering settings and redirecting websites. It infects systems either by tricking the user into installing the unwanted software or by exploiting software vulnerabilities.
Many antivirus packages now include spyware protection. However, for Windows users Microsoft have also released Windows Defender, a free piece of anti-spyware software.