Malicious software, or malware for short, is a term given to any kind of software that infiltrates onto your computer and subverts your control.
For instance, malware may:
Basically malware is cybercrime, a field of crime in which victim and perpetrator can be separated by thousands of kilometers.
It is a constant battle these days to avoid infections of malicious software. The majority of people have insufficient knowledge or understanding of the problem. Generally, people are not aware of the dangers and have little idea of the degree of sophistication of malicious software.
Most computer users will rely on purchasing and installing anti-virus software as a defence against malware but that's as far as it goes. However, to combat the problem computer users must also ensure that:
Generally, the purpose of malicious software is to make money. This may be achieved for the purpetrator of the crime through the delivery of unsolicited pop-up advertising, stealing information that could be used in fraudulent transactions, inviting you to pay money to fix the actual malware infection or inviting you to part with money on false pretenses.
Malware can be incredibly sophisicated these days. It often employs stealth tactics to evade detection and often has the ability to compromise anti-virus systems and render them useless. It can change your computer settings so as to hide your personal files and folders or it may hijack your Internet browser so that it takes you to websites designated by the malware maker.
Certain types of malware can be extremely difficult to remove from your computer, even by experts. Although recognised brands of anti-malware software such as Norton, Kaspersky, McAfee, Trend Micro report that the problems are fully resolved, you can never be fully sure. That's why in the corporate world computers used by staff are just reimaged at the first signs of trouble as all data is stored on network drives rather than the staff computer.
Furthermore it is often the case that recognised brands of anti-malware will find and remove components of malware but then tell you that the problem is not fully resolved. Basically it's a battleground where criminal work around the clock to find new solutions to bypass and subvert computer security systems. (see Recommended Free Anti-Malware Software below)
Basically, it is all about risk. Even before you have an attack of malware, you must evaluate the risk. The most significant risk is that criminals might access your passwords and login details to your Internet Banking or highly sensitive personal and private information such as Credit Card details. Identity theft is an awful crime for those affected. The victim is left in a position of having to explain to various authorities how they have lost money, or their identity has been used for fraudulent transactions. Usually however, investigating authorities can usually quickly determine how crime was perpetrated and absolve the victim of any wrong doing.
Other risks include the possibility that your computer is being accessed by criminals and used as a shield for crimes other than identity theft. For instance, when a government suffers a 'denial of service attack' as a result of being bombarded by thousands of computers simultaneously across the world, one of these computers could be yours!
Generally, however, losing data such as years of photos, music and documents on your computer is not the main risk. Even though a computer might suffer a completely disabling malware attack, it is nearly always possible for a computer fixer to recover and save data. Criminals want to take control of your computer but not to the extent that you are forced to take drastic action such as reinstalling the operating system because this puts them out of business on your computer.
Risks have two major factors, probability and severity. On both these factors, you need to take action. The probability of an attack of malware is high, and potential consequences (severity) of such an occurrence can be, for some people, devastating.
You can, of course, lower your risk by installing the very best anti-virus / anti-malware and by avoiding certain well-known traps. This reduces the probability of the risk but does not remove it. For peope with significant sums of money in bank accounts, it is necessary to take other measures, outside of your computer systems, to protect your money.
There is some really good anti-malware software that you can download from the internet. This software may not always fix your problem but you should give it a try.
Microsoft Security Essentials
This software from Microsoft is not "heavy" on your computer's resources.
You only need to download the first item on the download menu on this page.
Once you have downloaded and installed this software, the first task is to use its automatic update feature.
Norton Anti-Virus / Norton Internet Security
Norton used to be very heavy on your computer's resources in years gone by but now it is much better.