In general, this blog is about instructional and assistive technology. However, I have been dealing with an increasingly large number of general technology issues, so I have decided to add a new category to the blog for this type of stuff. Today I want to briefly explain how viruses and malware work, in hopes of helping readers prevent these sort of problems occurring on their computers.
Malware is short for malicious software. There are different types of malware (including viruses) that can cause all sorts of problems on one’s computer. Malware can be contracted in a variety of ways, including:
- Simply visiting a website. Some websites are setup with the intent of installing spyware or other infectious software on your computer. Typically these are adult or similar sites, but that doesn’t mean it can’t occur on what appears to be a safe site. Use caution when visiting sites and consider using one of the add ins for your browser that show a check mark next to safe sites.
- Installing software from the web. Any free software you download could also contain a virus. Be sure you know what you are downloading.
- Being on a network. Unfortunately, just being on a network could infect your computer if someone else’s computer on the network becomes infected. Use caution when joining public networks. Microsoft usually asks if networks are for home, work or public so they can add extra security when needed.
- Sharing files. I’ve seen a virus spread through an entire group of people because someone downloaded a file from the internet that contained a virus. When this was transferred via a flash drive to other folkss they also received the virus. Make sure you know the origins of any file you put on your computer
- Email. Anytime your bank, ebay or other website that stores financial information asks you to click on a link and sign in, be sure to delete it. You should only access these sites directly from the web address (i.e. www.chase.com) and not through an email link. These type of emails are called phishing.
- Websites that don’t look like websites… This happened to my wife yesterday. She clicked on a link to a site from google. She then received a message about a possible virus. The page that popped up look just like the control panel window on her computer. So she clicked to fix the problem thinking it was some built in support on her computer, when actually she was on a webpage set up to look like her computer. When she clicked to fix it… you guessed it, it actually installed the malware. As a general rule, anything on a website that says “click here to fix…” will likely make things worse.
The above are a few of the most common ways malware infect computers. Using some of the practical advice I included above will go a long way in helping you prevent infection.