by Jacob Peterson
Anyone who has a computer has at some point come across the term malware, whether it is through a security warning or talking to tech support. The term itself is a shortened form of “malicious software”, and can cover any type of software used to either disrupt computer operations, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private systems. The term is an umbrella for several different kinds of malicious software, with some of the most common being adware, trojans, and ransomware. A lot of the time the victim of these programs will not even be aware of their presence until after they have damaged your computer.
Probably the most common malware that people come across is adware, or “advertising-supported software”. Any software that renders advertisements to generate revenue for the programs author. While there are some versions of this that can be defined as legitimate, for example, an ad in Skype, the adware the counts as malware will generally be installed without the users consent. Should this program observe the users activities, it will report them without the user’s consent- this is also known as spyware. Symptoms of this intrusion include random pop-ups while using your prefered search engine, with many being “personalized” based on your previous browser history.
Another term people may be somewhat familiar with is a “trojan”. These programs come in various forms, though they generally have the same purpose; to act as a backdoor for someone to gain access and remote control of your computer. These programs can cause the loss or theft of personal data, as well as possible system harm. Like adware, trojans can be hidden within the program of third party downloads, but they are more often made to look like routine, useful, or attractive programs, gaining them their name. It is also possible to get them via email if the victim is tricked into downloading a malicious program. Symptoms of a trojan will normally include the random crashing of the computer, or the “blue screen of death”, as well as severely slowing down your computer. The controller of the trojan may download other malware, or even connect it to a botnet. Some of the more common trojans include Netbus Advance System Care, Beast, and Vundo.
The other common malware that people may run into is ransomware. as the name of the program suggests, this software will take control of your computer until the creator or controller of the malware is paid a ransom. Like the other malware, ransomware is generally installed on your system in secret, without the user knowing it even exists. Ransomware will often display messages fraudulently claiming to be part of some law enforcement or government agency. Often times they will make claims of the computer being used for illegal purposes, such as downloading pirated software or child pornography. Often times these will lock your computer until a fine is paid, usually through services like Ukash or Paysafecard. Some of the more notable ransomwares are Reveton and CryptoLocker.
Most malware comes in the form of programs embedded within other downloads. The majority of these come from third party software (software provided by a company other than the computers manufacturer). Many of these will be hidden within the main program, and will silently install themselves without the knowledge of the computers owners. These methods are common among malware, and one should always scan files with anti-malware programs before installing them. Some of the most common free anti-malware software are Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free, and AVG AntiVirus Free. Should you not feel comfortable getting a free program online, you can always use other payed security programs like McAfee and Norton. Either way, it will do nothing but hurt your system in the long run if you don’t protect your computer.
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