Malware 101

Home & Family, Technology
on November 23, 2011

The unfortunate reality of computing is that hackers and unscrupulous businesses can attack computers and either destroy data or create major hassles for consumers. This has expanded with the widespread use of the Internet, as consumers regularly surf through a large number of websites and download a wide variety of different materials. Consumer surfing patterns have, in many ways, made it easier for attackers to get malware or spyware onto personal computers. To protect your computer from such software, be vigilant about your computer usage. Here are some terms to know and some methods of safeguarding your computer.

What is malware? The term malware is abbreviated from the phrase malicious software. Malware is an umbrella term for any piece of software that gets into a computer system and can gather or destroy data, inhibit operations or gain unauthorized access. Many pieces of malware will run in the background of computer operating systems, and users may have no idea that the software is there. Malware can range in purpose from annoyance to generalized destruction.

What is spyware? Spyware will gather information about a user, which can include personal records and Internet surfing habits. Some spyware programs will simply gather data, while others will change settings on a computer and attempt to direct individuals toward websites and other locations. Again, the lines between spyware, malware and viruses are a bit blurred, depending on the specific functions of each.

Strategies for protection. According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers can obtain some level of protection by utilizing various antivirus software programs. The key for users is to make sure that their software is up to date, as new viruses are released onto the Internet on a regular basis. In addition, it pays to exercise a measure of common sense and conservatism when conducting business online. Unfamiliar companies and smaller sites may represent higher risks. If users suspect that malware or spyware is present on their computers, they should take appropriate steps to upgrade software or, in some cases, consult with an expert.