While you might have heard the term “malware“, you may not necessarily know exactly what it means. And don’t worry if that’s true, as you’re not alone. Most consumers are unaware of the risks posed by malware, spyware and all of the other digital security threats on the internet.

But if any of your data is online or connected to an Internet-enabled device, you need to know what it is — so you can take the necessary steps to avoid it.

Malware definition: so what is it exactly?

Malware is a broad term that describes any type of software program intended to steal information or corrupt data. You’ve probably heard the term “virus”, which is the most commonly used word to describe malicious code. In relation to computers, a virus is a type of malware.

People who have experience of it, or who know the scale of the threat it poses often choose the best malware protection they can afford. And while nothing can fully protect from malware, a decent protection system can drastically reduce the chances of a security breach on your systems.

There are various types of malware, however — and some pose a bigger risk than others. Depending on your internet devices and how you use them, some forms of malware may be a bigger risk to your data than others.

A lot of malicious software exists simply to persuade the owner of a system to buy virus and malware protection. The computer becomes infected, and a message pops up with a link to an expensive solution. But a lot of modern malware is coded to steal sensitive financial data. Personal details, credit card numbers and sensitive information can be used to steal your cash – or even your identity.

A trusted malware scanner should be able to tell you exactly what kind of malware has infected your computer. And you can go from there. While some packages involve one-off purchases, others are subscription-based — and there are even some good free malware protection packages on the market today.

What are the different types of malware?

Whatever you’re using for malware protection, the threats picked up by a malware scanner usually fall into one of the following categories.

Viruses

Viruses are attached to files — which are now usually sent to computers via emails. In many cases, clicking a seemingly ordinary link in the email takes the user to a malicious website, which automatically begins downloading the virus.

Worms

Worms are similar to viruses, but they don’t need to piggyback on a file to get into your system. They “burrow” their way into your computer from a connected network without you even noticing it. They do this by looking for security flaws in your software and breaching them.

Trojans

A trojan is also a type of virus, and it can get into your system by posing as a seemingly harmless or useful file. For example, you might think you’re downloading some trusted software. But somewhere along the way, you are taken to a malicious website, and instead of downloading the file you wanted, you download the trojan virus. Once opened, the trojan can give a third party access to your computer.

Adware

Adware is code designed to push ads onto your screen at regular intervals. In many cases, multiple ads pop up at once, and browser pages mysteriously open on their own – taking you to some pretty unscrupulous websites.

Spyware

Spyware is designed to monitor how you use your computer — usually in an effort to steal sensitive financial information. For example, a keystroke virus records everything you type on your keyboard, including all your most important passwords.

Bots

A bot is a type of automated process that has some specific tasks to complete. It interacts with other networks — and other bots — to take control of systems and steal sensitive information. Once bots take over one machine, they can link to others, creating a very powerful and destructive botnet.

Is my computer affected?

Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that their computer is infected with malware until money is taken from their bank account, or until their credit card has been maxed out. However, there are some tell-tale signs to look out for. If you ever notice any of them on your system, it’s important to use a malware scanner as soon as possible in order to find them — and eradicate them.

One of the most common signs of malicious software is poor performance. If your computer suddenly starts slowing down or crashing for no apparent reason, it might be a good idea to run a scan with the best malware protection system you can find.

Another common sign that malware has infected your computer is the sudden appearance of pop-up messages, ads and self-opening browser tabs.

Other signs of malware include:

  • A sudden increase in internet traffic
  • Your homepage has changed without your consent
  • Your existing virus and malware protection has been disabled
  • Your contacts report receiving strange messages from you
  • There are icons on your homepage that you don’t recognize

Top malware protection tips

So, you’ve found malware on one of your computers — and it’s causing you some serious problems. Not only that, you’re worried that your data might fall into the wrong hands. You need to act fast in order to eliminate the threat.

Once the infection has occurred, all you can do is to try and locate the files responsible – and remove them permanently. However, that’s easier said than done, as the latest threats often make deletion extremely difficult.

You should be able to find and remove threats with malware protection software. Simply install it, and run a full scan of your entire system. You should see a list of suspected threats being put into quarantine as the scan progresses. At the end of the process, the software will either delete them or ask you what you’d like to do with them.

In some cases, only trained malware specialists can completely remove threats from a computer.

Utilize VPN technology

A virtual private network gives you a different way to protect your data and servers from malware and hackers. Rather than waiting for potentially harmful code to arrive, VPN software stops the security breach from arriving at all.

When a user accesses your VPN website, the connection is instantly secured. Think of a VPN as a firewall for your online data — such as that located on your websites and Cloud-based services. In essence, you can connect to your online resources via a private and fully encrypted connection. This stops viruses and hackers from finding a route to your data.

The best defense is prevention

The best way to deal with malware is to make sure it never gets into your system in the first place. Get to know your virus and malware protection well, so you understand how to use it and how to deal with threats. Also, keep a close eye on your web browsers — they often provide warnings and stop you from landing on malicious web pages.

Make sure your existing protection is updated and up to the job. There are some free malware protection packages on the market — but most of them offer very limited functionality. The best malware protection can be found via search engines and online discussion forums. Once you have a robust anti-malware system in place, make sure it’s running regular scans — and that all of the various defense mechanisms (firewalls etc.) are on and running normally.

Unfortunately, hackers and fraudsters are always trying to design new malware to circumvent antivirus protection tools. Make sure you have the best possible system in place at all times. And when something nasty slips through the cracks, consult malware removal specialists for advice.