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A Quick Guide to Malware

Malware is everywhere! According to AV-TEST, there are almost 800 million species of malicious applications in the wild. The term is generally used for hostile software which has the ability to infect our computers, but unfortunately it has recently spread to automobile operating systems as well, allowing hackers to take full control over the steering wheel, for example.

So yes, malware is bad. Really bad! It can encrypt computer data, rendering our PCs useless. It can turn our computers into remote-controlled machines that only take orders from hackers, attacking other computers over the Internet. It can be used to take down our home security systems, to give hackers access to our online banking accounts, and the list of negative issues could go on and on.

Malware ranges from plain viruses to worms, spyware, adware, ransomware and even... scareware, those annoying pop-us which tell you that your computer has got a problem, so you need to install a free "antivirus". Of course, by doing that, you are actually installing a virus, which will take full control over your PC.

Viruses attack the operating system, attaching themselves to it and to the installed applications. And each time you run one of the infected applications, the virus replicates itself, infecting even more apps. This way, critical computer files are corrupted, and your PC will stop working sooner or later. Early signs of infection include slow downs, continued hard disk activity, O.S. crashes, and more.

Worms are similar with viruses, but can also spread through instant messaging and chat applications. They travel along the computer network wires or wirelessly, replicating themselves and diminishing bandwidth.

Spyware is intrusive software that's secretly installed on our computers. Then, it records all our keyboard strokes, all the visited URLs, and may even start a laptop's built-in webcam, recording whatever is happening in front of it, and then sending all this data to its creator.

Adware can be mistaken with freeware, useful applications that can be downloaded for free. Often times, adware is a former freeware application which is now bundled by its creator with another software package that tracks computer usage and/or displays various advertisements.

The most popular form of malware consists of trojan horses, though, which account for about 50% of the total number of infections. If you have gotten an email which came from an unknown source and included an attachment, chances are that you have been emailed a trojan horse. Of course, your computer won't get infected until you run the attachment by double clicking it. Still, people do this in huge numbers, being driven by the desire to see the promised "secret" information or confidential pictures, for example.

The somewhat good news is that most trojan horses lack the ability of replicating themselves. However, they can be very dangerous! It has been reported that, just like spyware, some trojans now also include keyloggers, being able to monitor the user's computer activity, including the addresses of the visited sites, the user names and passwords for various accounts, etc. Then, all this information is secretly sent by email or uploaded to a server which is owned by the hacker.

If the situation looks desperate, well... it actually is! Fortunately, antiviruses are able to detect, and then remove most types of malware. Still, for best results, it is recommended to have an antivirus application installed before the disaster strikes.

Antispyware applications can be useful as well. They are often able to detect cookie files that track our activity, which are usually ignored by antiviruses. Still, it is important to make sure that the antivirus and the antispyware application aren't conflicting.

If you think that your computer may be infected, shut it down, and then disconnect it from the Internet. Power on the computer again, and then start it in Safe mode. Save the important data to a memory stick.

Use another computer to download the .iso image of a good antivirus, and then burn it onto a CD. Connect the infected computer to the Internet again, and then boot it using the CD which includes the antivirus application. The antivirus will update itself over the Internet, and then it will start cleaning the infected computer. Fortunately, by the end of this operation, your computer will be free from any form of malware once again.