Diseases can have serious effects on human beings. They can be a slight inconvenience, cause permanent damage, or even be life threatening. No one wants to get sick, but when we do, we do everything we can to take care of it. This same line of thought can be applied to computers as well. Computers, like you, can get sick, and when they do, its important to address it before permanent damage is done. And while humans get diseases, computers get something else: malware.
Malware is a computer program that was intentionally designed to do harm. This separates it from a software bug, which unintentionally does harm due to an error. Malware can come from many sources: websites and files on the Internet, installed programs, a flash drive, anything that has been infected can infect your computer. And just as humans can get sick from many things: viruses, bacteria, cancer, computers can too: viruses, worms, Trojans.
At one point, the purpose of malware was generally for humor. Malware was a prank, a way for people to mess with each other. However, as the Internet became bigger, the potential to use malware for one’s own benefit became bigger as well. Malware is often used to steal personal information: social security numbers, bank accounts, passwords, etc. Malware can lurk on your computer, gathering your information as you use it, and send it to the malware’s owner without you realizing a thing. Malware can also hijack a computer, using it remotely for its own purposes. Malware-infected computers can be used to send spam emails, host illegal content, or any number of other things, all without you being aware. And all of this has an impact on how the computer runs. Malware infected computers tend to be much slower and less responsive. Although, if your computer is infected, performance should be the least of your worries.
Malware can also be used on a bigger scale. It can be used to attack enemy governments, destroying or stealing data, sabotaging enemy plans. It can be used to steal businesses’ confidential information, like client lists, or trade secrets. These kinds of attacks are more deliberate and take planning, as opposed to infecting home users, which is usually done naturally through the Internet.
Malware tries to hide on your computer so you don’t realize it is there and try to delete it. Malware can hide in a number of ways. It can hide itself inside of the files of a normally clean program, which means that any program can potentially be infected. This is why it is important to download programs only from trusted sites. Malware can also masquerade as a legitimate program, making you believe it is safe, when in reality, it is harmful malware. Malware can also elevate its privileges on a computer that you, the user, are unable to see it because it is considered a system file. It can also only run when you first turn the computer on or confuse or disable your computer’s defensive measures.
Malware often uses defects in programs to its advantage. Often when new programs or operating systems are released, they have certain flaws that have not been discovered yet. These flaws allow malware easy access to those programs until the flaw is fixed in an update. This is why installing brand new programs can be risky, and why updating your software is important.
User error is also a very easy way to get infected, as many people just don’t realize what they are doing sometimes. Malware distributors may sell malware, claiming it is legitimate software, and user will buy and install it, not realizing they just installed malware. Malware-infected websites tell users they have won a prize or that they are infected with malware. All you need to do is click here to claim it, or to clean your computer. These are often really asking, “Can we install malware on your computer?” And too often the user clicks yes, not realizing what they are really doing. This is why it is so important for computer users to be aware of what they are clicking on before they click it.
If malware is the disease, then anti-malware and ant-virus software is the medicine and vaccine. Every computer should have this software before the user does anything else. Anti-virus and anti-malware should be the number one priority when you buy a new computer. Without it, you have no protection from malware. But with it, it can automatically detect and delete malware, as well as warn you when it detects unsafe sites or programs.
Malware can be a very scary and very serious thing. It is a serous threat to any computer user. However, with good anti-malware tools, and a good familiarity with how to be safe on the Internet, you can reduce your risk of getting infected.