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Beware Malware: A Comprehensive Guide to Malicious Software

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Malware is a word that is short for malicious software. It is known to consist of various types of programming—like scripts, code and active content—that is meant to deny or interrupt operation, steal personal information, or gain impermissible access to a system. Computer professionals use the expression “malware” to denote a variety of aggravating, hostile or intrusive programming code or software — Scareware, deceptive adware, Trojan horses, worms and computer viruses can all be reasonably considered as malware. The Symantec Corporation has cited China as being the biggest originator of malware in the world.

A good way to begin guarding a computer’s system against malware is through antivirus software. The purpose of antivirus software is to shield a computer from, but not limited to, malware like worms, computer viruses, Trojan horses, unwanted adware and spyware. Antivirus software may also be used to both prevent future attacks of malware on a system as well as to remove actual malware that has already intruded on a system. Antivirusware is essential because it can restore a computer system and get it back to its normal functionality after a form of malware has wreaked havoc on the system.

Malware actually started out with non-malicious intentions: In the 1980s, a lot of malware was self-reproducing and featured no particular damage routine in its code. That began to change when an increasing number of programmers became more and more familiar with virus programming and, thus, began to create viruses that could wipe out data on a computer. Before the Internet was widely used, malware was usually spread on infected floppy disks, but as more people used the Internet, viruses spread online at a greater frequency. Today, antivirus software has to check a large number of files, not only executable ones, due to all the new viruses being released online.

There are many different types of malware on the Internet that can infect one’s computer. One of the most popular or notorious types of malware is the Trojan horse, which is also known to be the most harrowing type. Even though Trojan horses rarely ruin files, they concentrate on more sensitive information like a PC’s system resources and financial information. At times, they can also misuse a PC to involve it in a monstrous denial-of-service attack on a website. On the other hand, a virus is the most popular type of malware because it is so commonplace in popular culture. Basically, a virus copies itself in order to infect a computer, which it does by spreading itself through a file system used by other computers or files that are found on a network file system.

A worm replicates itself by employing a computer network to transfer copies of itself to other computers on the same network. Unlike a computer virus, though, a worm does not need to connect itself to a file, but it will always cause damage, even if it is relatively moderate damage like taking up extra bandwidth. Adware can be any kind of software that automatically plays, downloads or otherwise presents ads to a computer. Adware can become malware if it is spyware that steals information on a computer. Spyware, as the name implies, is malicious software that tracks a person’s Internet browsing habits to determine what sort of ads to send to the user; spyware and adware can even be the same kind of malware. Backdoor malware is like a worm or a Trojan horse, yet instead, it opens a so-called backdoor into an infected computer that provides an opening for hackers, other malware, or spam to get through.

Even though malware is a clear and present danger on the Internet, there are steps that computer users can take to guard themselves against such threats. Malware can be prevented or, in the worst case scenario, fixed by the use of antivirus software. Antivirus software works to detect, prevent and remove any malware that it comes across, and it is readily available for purchase either in physical stores or right from the Internet. People who purchase antivirus software to protect against the real threats of malware have to be cautioned that some types of antivirus software can be less than user-friendly, which may be discouraging to people. However, buying and properly using antivirus software is essential and necessary to ensure that a computer system is not infected by any malware. This is especially true if a user spends a lot of time surfing on the Internet.

Article last updated July 14, 2011.

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