What Is Malware? How Malicious Software Can Affect Your Computer
The Internet is no longer the safe place it was years ago. Malware, or malicious software, is on the rise and can be found in all corners of the Web. By simply navigating to a website or opening an email, you are at risk of infecting your computer.
Malware takes the form of code, scripts, content and even legitimate software to obtain access to your computer and the personal information it houses.
Types of malware
Malware is the universal umbrella term used to describe the many different types of malevolent software that exist. Computer viruses, computer worms, Trojan horses, rootkits, spyware and adware are all different varieties of malware, each of which interacts with your computer in a different fashion.
Regardless of what form they take, malware exploits weaknesses in your computer’s firewall and antivirus protections to gain access to your computer for a variety of purposes.
The goal of malware
Pranksters and hackers alike write tens of thousands of new malicious applications daily for a variety of reasons. For the pranksters, they simply want to see the havoc their program can wreak. Hackers do it to further their reputation, disrupt operations or to gather guarded information.
On the personal computer level, malware gathers information like Social Security numbers, credit card information, email addresses and passwords.
Many hackers design malicious software with the one goal of making money. Certain malware applications disguise themselves as legitimate applications or even fake anti-virus applications in order to gain access to your computer.
Once the application has installed itself — oftentimes you can identify fake software by the fact it automatically installs itself without asking your permission to do so — they will decrease your computer’s performance until you agree to pay the hacker a specific fee to uninstall the application. Once the fee is paid, the application will automatically uninstall and your computer will run as smoothly as it did before.
However, not all malware applications are so easy to get rid of. Most viruses, worms and Trojans attempt to gain access to your computer to perform data theft, keystroke logging, computer crashes and botnetting.
The pieces of malware capable of keystroke logging and botnetting are those to be most wary of.
Keystroke logging is when a Trojan tracks every keystroke you make on your computer’s keyboard. Based on the keystrokes, hackers are able to pick out login IDs and passwords to bank accounts and whatever other websites you may be visiting.
Botnetting is when a Trojan uses your computer as part of a spamming or denial-of-service attack. Such malware essentially uses your computer (in additions to hundreds of thousands of other infected PCs) to send spam emails throughout the world or repeatedly load a website with the intention of causing it to crash.
Protecting against malware
Firewall software and anti-virus software are the only defenses against malware. Windows offers its own built-in firewall and anti-virus protection, though one of the mistakes many computer users make is to turn off the built-in firewall and anti-virus software provided with Windows.
Unless you are using other anti-virus software with a firewall function, these features should never be turned off. Instead of using Windows' firewall and anti-virus protections, many users purchase third-party software for increased levels of protection. These applications index the countless malware applications that exist and act as a barricade against infiltration.