What is Malware

by Guest Blogger

in Computer Tips, Software

by Sebastian Anthony

Malware, or malicious software, is computer code that has been intentionally designed to cause harm or disruption in some way. Malware is a term that encapsulates almost every kind of digital nasty in existence: viruses, spyware, Trojan horses, and more.

The birth of the worm
Historically, viruses were the only kind of malware. Viruses would shut down computers, erase hard drives, and generally make a nuisance of themselves — but they weren’t particularly invasive. Then, around the end of the 1990s, the World Wide Web emerged and changed everything. With millions of people connected to the same network, computer worms crawled onto the scene.

A computer worm is programmed to self-replicate, usually through a means of digital communication, and it didn’t take long for a worm that used our email address books to send itself to every one of our contacts. These worms replicated so quickly that they actually brought multinational companies and the entire internet to a standstill. It’s estimated that billions of dollars of business was lost.

Since then, we’ve taken malware a lot more seriously, and for the most part it’s under control. Nowadays, most malware simply slows down your computer or pops up annoying windows every time you surf the web. Some malware can steal your bank details or your Facebook or World of Warcraft login details. Basically, it pays to have antivirus (anti-malware) software installed — and it’s free, too!

Free anti-malware solutions for Windows
For Windows users, you can’t go wrong with Microsoft Security Essentials as a primary defense. It’s free and consistently ranks as one of the best antivirus and anti-malware suites. To install it, just follow the prompts and hit Next until it finishes. Once it’s installed, it will try to update and initiate a scan. Go ahead and let it complete the scan, then read on.

The great thing about Microsoft Security Essentials is that it continues to run in the background and constantly checks to see if you’re under attack from malware. It scans every file you download, which prevents email- and IM-borne malware from infecting you.

As a secondary defense, Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware is truly excellent. Anti-Malware will catch things that Security Essentials might miss, and vice versa. It’s free, and installing it is just a matter of downloading and hitting Next until it launches. Like Security Essentials, it will try to update first, and then you will have the option of scanning. Unless you’re in a rush, select “Perform full scan” and click Scan.

Finally, to be certain that no malware slips past the net, you must be sure to keep both Security Essentials and Anti-Malware updated. Security Essentials will show an orange icon in the bottom right corner of your screen when it needs updating (see right). You may have to click the Up arrow to see the icon. Once it’s updated, the icon will turn green.

Anti-Malware doesn’t update itself, so you have to open it, click the Update tab, and then “Check for Updates.”

Mac users have it easy
Mac users don’t have to worry about malware quite as much as their Windows cousins. For the most part, this can be attributed to the fact that Windows, with about 90% of the market, dominates the PC world. The creators of malware simply aim for the larger target.

Mac OS X has a built-in anti-malware tool, but if you want a little more protection — a second line of defense — check out iAntiVirus. It’s free and easy to operate, but just like Microsoft Security Essentials, you need to keep it up to date. Fortunately, iAntiVirus has Smart Update, which keeps it updated for you. In the application’s Settings, click the Scheduling tab and make sure it’s turned on, and set “Automatically check for and install updates” to Daily.

Hey presto!
So there you have it: Proofing your computer against malware is both free and easy. If you value your privacy and security, keeping on top of malware is simply something that you must do.

[Image credit: clix]


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