Computer viruses- we've all heard about them, and most of us have experienced it no matter how careful we are.
This tutorial will go over the most common forms of computer viruses and other types of malware; how to avoid becoming infected and what to do if you're one of many who becomes a victim of malware.
Note: Malware is another word for Malicious Software. Malware includes computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and spyware.
Today, it's hard to imagine a world without email, the most frequently used communication tool. Because of the wide use of email, it is a favorite target of hackers. The most common method of infection is by far the email attachment.
Malware via email comes in a variety of formats so you can never be too careful when opening email.
The good news is that you are in charge of your email, and email malware requires user intervention to get started. It's just that simple.
We'll go over a few forms of email malware over the next few paragraphs.
Email Malware - File Attachment
Malware can come in the form of an actual malware program file attached to the email message (typically with .exe or .bat file extensions).
This can include a "disguised" attachment such as a .gif file with an extra ".exe" extension, where ".exe" is an abbreviation for "executable."
Opening such a file will almost certainly cause harm to your computer, since the sender felt the need to disguise the file's actual nature.
Email Malware - Embedded in a Document
Some MS Office files (e.g., with .doc or .xls suffixes) have applications called macros embedded in them. Be cautious when opening files containing macros, because it could have malware embedded.
Also be cautious of compressed files (typically .zip suffixes.) A compressed file could contain a virus.
Only enable documents containing macros or open zip files if you know person sending you the document and you are expecting it.
Email Malware - Malicious Links
Clicking links to websites can introduce viruses and "spyware."
To avoid this threat, don't follow links in email messages, especially if you don't recognize the sender or were not expecting it.
Next, we'll take a look at the various forms of malware:
Computer viruses are programs that copy themselves.
Viruses can destroy files stored on your computer, corrupt your operating system, and in a worst-case scenario, deny service or shut down an entire network.
A Trojan Horse is a program that does more than it advertises to do and damages or compromises the security of the computer. It masquerades as a benign application and initially appears to perform a desirable function. In addition to the expected function, it steals information or harms the system.
Spyware, also called adware, is any software that covertly gathers user information through the user's Internet connection without his or her knowledge, usually for advertising purposes. It is similar to a Trojan Horse in that users unwittingly install the product when they install something else.
A keylogger is a computer program that logs each keystroke a user types on a keyboard.
Keyloggers can also capture screenshots of user activity, log passwords, record online chat conversations or take different actions in order to find out what a user is doing.
Malicious keyloggers often are installed by other parasites like viruses, trojans, backdoors or even spyware.
Important: Avoid conducting banking business or entering personal information on public computers such as computers found in libraries or cybercafes. Public computers could contain keyloggers.
With all of the malicious programs out there, it's important that you understand some of the things you can do to keep your computer protected:
We'll go over these topics in detail over the next few paragraphs.
Use Anti-Virus Software and Keep it Current
Installing anti-virus software is the first step towards protecting yourself against viruses.
New viruses are constantly being created. Anti-virus software vendors try to keep up with these new viruses by issuing virus signature updates and making them available online.
Falling behind on updates can allow a new virus to slip through without being detected by the anti-virus software.
Microsoft Security Essentials
Available to eBay consumers at no additional cost, Microsoft Security Essentials is the industry certified, anti-malware solution that helps address the ongoing security needs of genuine Windows PCs -- helping protect them from viruses, spyware and other malicious threats.
Microsoft Security Essentials is easy to get directly from Microsoft.com and setup is simple with no complicated registration process or personal information required. Learn more.
Keep Computer Software Up-to-Date
Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats.
New defects are regularly being discovered and reported, and updates and patches are eventually released to address them.
If available, subscribe to an email notification service that tells you when a patch has been released. Most patches can be found at the manufacturer's Web site.
Note: A patch is a downloadable piece of software that repairs a security or other "hole" in the software.
Use Caution With Email Attachments
Instead of immediately opening an email attachment:
Install a Firewall
A firewall is simply a program or hardware device that filters the information coming through the Internet connection into your private network or computer system.
There are two basic types of personal firewalls:
Adjust Your Browser's Security Level
Your browser's security level setting determines how much active content it allows.
The Medium security setting generally allows active content. Active content allows some programs to possibly introduce malicious or unwanted code or files to your computer.
The High security setting prevents active content entirely. While this gives your computer better protection from malware, it may prevent you from viewing content on many Web sites.
Be Cautious When Using Peer to Peer Software
Peer to peer (P2P) networks are prolific and can lure you with downloads of free music files, movies, games, applications or tools.
But file-sharing can have a number of risks. If you don't check the proper settings, you could allow access not just to the files you intend to share, but also to other information on your hard drive, like your tax returns, email messages, medical records, photos, or other personal documents.
We hope that you've found this tutorial helpful and you've learned that though it's impossible to guarantee a virus-free computing experience, there are things you can do to reduce your risk.