We throw around a lot of weird words on the IdentityForce blog, like phishing, smishing, botnets, worms, trojan horses, and more. We recently received an inquiry from an IdentityForce member about malware protection and we thought it was a good opportunity to provide some much needed information on what malware is, how to avoid it, and what to do if you have it!
What is malware? The official definition for “malware” from the Tech Terms Computer Dictionary is “short for ‘malicious software,’ [and] refers to software programs designed to damage or do other unwanted actions on a computer system.” This isn’t a particularly new word, and historically, it’s a broad term used to describe a variety of viruses and spyware that could potentially infect computers in order to gather personal information or cause damage to a computer’s hardware.
Below are some of the vulnerabilities that fall under the term malware.
- Viruses harmful computer programs that can be transmitted to your computer via email, social media, or any other place where you are able to download programs or documents to your computer. Viruses usually spread from computer to computer, and are designed to provide access to your personal information to hackers.
- Spyware can download itself onto your computer without you needing to do anything other than visit an unsafe website or open a suspicious email. While on your computer, they may do things that you didn’t authorize (like opening an advertisement), and can track your passwords, user names, and other data.
- Keyloggers or keystroke logging is software that monitors all keystrokes on a computer. Usually, keylogging is used in good faith, by an employer to monitor employee activity, or by parents to monitor their kids’ behaviors. Sometimes, hackers can install keyloggers on computers to capture personal information like passwords and banking numbers.
- Worms are often confused with viruses because of their ability to replicate across many computers. The difference is that worms replicate without user action, and can spread quickly. Computers infected with worms are vulnerable to hacking.
- Botnets refer to networks of computers infected by malicious software that are controlled by criminals. Botnets allow hackers to gather data from a variety of people, including passwords, social security numbers, credit card information, addresses and telephone numbers.
As you can see, there are a lot of ways hackers can access your information. And, you may not even know if your computer is infected with any of the malware mentioned above. The good news is, there are things you can do to guard your personal information from malware.
Start with never opening suspicious emails, or those sent from people you don’t know. Never click on suspicious links on social media, or provide your personal information to a website you aren’t familiar with. Take care when you are searching online. And trust your gut: if something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not.
In addition, make sure that you have installed internet security software that includes up-to-date firewall, antivirus and antispyware protection. Want to surf the web with less worry? Don’t forget that IdentityForce can help with Online Privacy control, anti-phishing and anti-keylogging software protect you while you’re shopping, banking, and sharing online, proactively helping you prevent malware from stealing your sensitive information.
Are there any other strange technology terms you want to learn more about? Leave a comment below, and we’ll try to write about it in a future blog. In the meantime, be on the lookout for our upcoming blog on what “phishing” is and how to protect yourself from phishing scams. (Update 11/5/2014: Phishing Scams: How To Protect Yourself is now live.