Fix-Microsoft-Office-2013-Errors-When-Opening-Documents-From-The-Internet Malware – Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Too Scared to Ask

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Malware – Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Too Scared to Ask

Malicious software, or malware for short, is a general name for software that has been designed with evil intent. It includes viruses, worms, backdoors, ransomware, rootkits, key-loggers, adware, spyware, and Trojan horses, among other malicious programs… all the horrors of the internet.

It comes in many forms to disrupt your enjoyment of computing and surfing the web. Malware causes computers to slow-down, perform badly or crash. It is used to spy on you while you are using the internet, or to steal details of your bank accounts and credit cards. In other words, it interrupts lives and causes massive financial losses.

Malware is not the same as defective software, which is legitimate software that contains harmful bugs or errors that were not corrected before the software was issued.

Experts estimate that more malware than legitimate software is currently being created.

Types of malware

Here’s a brief overview of the most common kinds of malware.

A computer virus is a program that infects executable software (i.e. software in which the name ends in.exe) such as an app. A virus cannot spread until the software in which it is hiding is activated, i.e. you only get a virus in your computer when you do something, such as open a file or email.

Most viruses are harmful. A virus will take up space on your hard disk or use up processing time, access your private information, corrupt data, spam your contacts with copies of itself or log your keystrokes. Viruses cause billions of Euros worth of economic damage each year.

A worm is a standalone program that actively transmits itself to other computers. Unlike a virus, a worm spreads automatically and does not depend on you opening a file or email.

Worms almost always harm your computer or network, if only by consuming bandwidth and increasing network traffic. Many also contain extremely dangerous code. They might, for example, delete files in your computer (e.g. the ExploreZip worm), encrypt files so that you can’t open them and have to pay a ransom to regain access, or send documents via e-mail.

Worms often install a backdoor in the infected computer. A backdoor enables its creator to get illegal access to your computer from a remote location while remaining undetected.

Using a backdoor, the author of the worm can turn your computer into a zombie. A zombie computer is one that is under the control of the person who created the worm. These can be linked together to form Botnets, i.e. networks of zombie computers.

Botnets can be used for many malicious purposes. They are, for example, used by spammers to send junk email or store contraband products such as child pornography. They can also be used to launch denial-of-service attacks.

Denial-of-service (DOS) attacks use botnets that link thousands of zombie computers to attack government information websites, internet banking sites, credit card payment gateways and even internet service providers. The target website is bombed by the network of zombies, all at the same time, with so many bogus requests that it is overwhelmed and is inaccessible to legitimate traffic. Your computer could be one of the zombies. If it is, you’ll notice that it has slowed down quite a bit.

Ransomware (aka scareware) is malware that restricts access to your computer and demands a ransom for the restriction to be removed. The Ukash or Gárda Síochána virus which is currently attacking computers in Ireland is a prime example of ransomware.

A rootkit is a sneaky type of malicious software that is installed in the root (where it is very difficult to detect) and that gives its creator full control over a system. The root is the top directory of a computer, i.e. the innermost part of the file system.

Once a rootkit is installed, the attacker can modify the existing software, including the software that used to detect or get rid of it. This makes detecting a rootkit is difficult. It also means that removal can be practically impossible, and reinstalling the operating system may be the only solution.

Key-logging (aka keystroke logging or keyboard capturing) is recording (logging) the keys struck on a keyboard, usually in such a way that the user is unaware that their actions are being monitored.

Key-logging has legitimate uses in studies of the interactions between computers and humans, and in checking how employees are using computers at work. But it can be used to copy passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs) in order to steal money from bank accounts and credit cards.

Adware is software that shows advertisements automatically. Adware may be designed to analyse the sites you visit and to show ads related to the goods and services you seem to like. Having ads popping up every few seconds on your screen can be extremely annoying.

Spyware is software that gathers information about a person or organization without their knowledge. Examples include key-loggers and adware. When it is used for malicious purposes, spyware can be difficult to detect, especially if it is included with genuine software purchased online.

Spyware can collect almost any type of data, including personal information such as internet surfing habits, user logins, and bank or credit account information. It can also interfere with the control of your computer by changing its settings.

A Trojan horse, or trojan, is a hacking program that gains access to your computer’s operating system by offering something desirable, such as an application or an online game which, when you download it, includes malicious code. The trojan is then used to create a backdoor or deliver a virus etc. Trojans make up about 70% of malware today.

What malware does

The effects malware can have on your computer range from annoying to devastating. Here are a few of the most common problems caused by malware:

[1] Your personal information, credit card and bank account details, and confidential passwords are collected so they can be used to steal your money or commit some other type of fraud.

[2] Your browser is redirected to websites that have been hacked and contain more malware.

[3] Annoying ads keep popping up.

[4] Your web-browser’s security settings are altered so your security is compromised.

[5] Your computer is running slower and slower.

[6] Your data is corrupted.

[7] Files are deleted.

[8] People on your email contact list are receiving spam email that seems to be coming from you.

[9] Your computer crashes or refuses to start up.

[10] Your computer is frozen and you face a demand to pay money to get it going again.

These are just a few of the problems malware can create for you.

How malware gets into your computer

There are three main ways in which malware can get into your computer:

(a) Downloads… you fall for the old Trojan horse trick and down load a piece of free software which arrives loaded with a backdoor installer, a virus or whatever.

(b) Via web-browsers… malware can hijack your browser and redirect you to an advertising or a phishing web page. A phishing site is a site designed to look like another legitimate site (such as an online bank site) and into which you are expected to enter a user name and password; doing so will give the creator of the malware access to you actual bank account which will then be cleaned out.

(c) Via Active-X controls… these are plug-ins or add-ons (such as IE’s Flash player) that only work on Internet Explorer or other MS products (such as MS Office). If you opt to run them they have access to your entire computer, so obviously they can be used of malicious purposes.

In May 2011 Microsoft reported that one in every 14 downloads from the internet probably contains malware. Social media, especially Facebook, are being increasingly used to spread malware.

How to protect yourself

There are plenty of things you can do to protect your computer from malware.

1) Keep updated… make sure your operating system and other software is updated regularly as the latest versions will contain patches for security vulnerabilities.

2) Be careful… when following links on the internet. Be especially cautious on social networking sites… images and videos that go viral can infect huge numbers of computers very quickly indeed.

3) Don’t install unknown software… some websites offer you free software. Before you download, ask yourself: ‘why would anyone give away software for free?’ More than likely there’s a catch, such as an unwelcome piece of malware hidden within the freebee.

4) Don’t click on pop-up windows… many malicious websites try to install malware on your system by making images look like pop-up windows.

5) Perform regular back-ups… to an external hard-disk or other media so that, if the worse comes to the worst and the only way to get rid of malware is to format your hard disk and reinstall your operating system, you don’t lose your files.

6) Install anti-virus software… to guard against viruses, worms, spyware and trojans. This software should scan files are they are being downloaded and block the activities of malware components. It should also intercept attempts to install start-up items or modify browser settings.

7) Scan… your computer regularly for malware, at least once every month, to detect and remove malware that has already been installed on your computer.

Several capable antivirus software programs (such as AVG) are available for free download from the Internet provided they are not for commercial use. However you are advised to only download these from the originator (eg http://www.avg.com ).

However, no matter how good they are, one anti-virus program cannot protect you from all malware and the day is likely to come when you do become infected. What do you do then?

How to get rid of malware

There are several ways you can clean malware out of your computer.

[1] Try rebooting your computer in Windows safe mode with networking, and then use system tools or Microsoft Safety Scanner to clean it out.

[2] You can use Microsoft’s System File Checker to find and repair corrupted system files.

[3] Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool (which is updated monthly) can also be used.

[4] Reinstall your operating system.

If these activities are beyond your abilities, you can call a technician for a home visit or you can take your PC or laptop down to your nearest computer repair shop. Either option is likely to be expensive.

A much more cost effective solution is to use a remote technician to guide you through the steps you need to follow using chat or the telephone. The cost for this should be no more than €25 for a complete fix, no matter how long it takes.

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