Just as important as securing personal data, it is essential to take the necessary steps to protect the systems that hold your data. The best way to protect from threats is to make sure all security updates are applied to the operating system and all applications (Adobe Flash, Java, etc), antivirus applications are installed and updated, and malware scan utilities are used frequently. Without proper protection, hackers can gain access to your system and steal important information that can lead to loss of data, loss of financial information, and identity theft.
Malware, short for malicious software, is any software that is designed to illegitimately gain access to a computer system or systems in order to cause damage, access sensitive information, or even take control of the computer for other uses. There are many different types of malware, including viruses, worms, trojans, rootkits, backdoors, spyware, bots, keystroke loggers, rogues and mobile threats. While many of these are closely related, each has some unique characteristics.
Types of Malware
Virus: a type of malware that is damaging to computers or files on a computer that is generally propagated through email or instant messages. It generally requires some user interaction to infect a computer.
Worm: a type of malware that is self-propagating–that is, it doesn’t need a user to interact with it to replicate and spread. It generally exploits itself through vulnerabilities in a network.
Trojan: a type of malware that disguises itself as or hides itself within a legitimate file.
Rootkit: a type of malware that hides itself in the boot sector of a computer, where it cannot be detected by traditional malware scanning programs. From here, it can disable malware scanners, infect system files so that its removal will cripple a system, and install other malware on a computer. These are usually nearly impossible to safely remove.
Backdoor: a pathway created by other malware that allows easier access to an infected machine.
Spyware: a type of malware that records personal information from a computer, usually with the intent of selling that information for use by product vendors. These often take the form of what appears to be a legitimate Virus Scanner that finds fake viruses and encourages a user to pay for an upgrade of the program to remove these fake threats.
Adware: a type of malware that displays unwanted advertisements on a computer, often noticeable when popup ads appear repeatedly without a browser window being opened. These ads can be specifically targeted to a user based on personal information collected with a piece of spyware.
Bot: a type of malware that acts like a parasite. It is rarely, if ever, activated, and waits to be used in coordinated attacks with other computers, collectively known as a botnet.
Keystroke Loggers: a type of malware that records keystrokes in order to capture sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, that are automatically sent to the creator of the keystroke logger.
Mobile Threats: a type of malware designed to specifically target mobile devices (smart phones, tablets, etc). Statement from a recent McAfee report: “Android OS solidified its lead as the primary target for new mobile malware. The amount of malware targeted at Android devices jumped nearly 37 percent since last quarter, and puts 2011 on track to be the busiest in mobile and general malware history. Nearly all new mobile malware in Q3 was targeted at Android.”
How Do I Get Malware?
Malware can come to you in a variety of ways: as an attachment in an email, as a download from a website, packaged along with what may seem to be a legitimate program, through network vulnerabilities you may be completely unaware of–the list can get pretty long. The important thing is to take steps to protect yourself.
How Do I Protect Myself?
You can take a few steps to keep yourself safe from malware:
1) Install an antivirus program and keep it updated:
An up to date antivirus can detect and protect your computer from a variety of different types of malware.
2) Keep your operating system updated:
Updates are periodically released for every major operating system, including Windows, macOS, and Linux systems. These help to address vulnerabilities in a system and defend against malware.
3) Install at least one anti-spyware program and keep it updated:
Antivirus programs usually don’t protect against spyware and adware. To protect against these, you’ll need dedicated spyware/adware detector and removal programs. Some well-known free programs for this are Malwarebytes, Spybot, and Ad-Aware. These programs will often not run on their own, and will need to be periodically manually updated and run.
4) Use caution when browsing, emailing, instant messaging, and sharing files:
Malware is everywhere, so be careful while online or on a local network. If something seems even a little suspicious, treat it as such. Be careful what websites you go to and what you download from them. Don’t download email attachments unless you’re sure of the contents and can verify them with the sender–remember, the other person may not even know they’re infected. If someone sends you a link in an instant message or a file, verify that they actually sent it to you–if you can’t see the URL (web address, starting with http://…), be suspicious. And remember, when sharing files, even on a flash drive, be sure that the other person’s computer is reasonably protected to insure that you don’t unwittingly get malware from them.
For Mobile Devices:
1) Research the publisher of the app
2) Read the reviews of the app
3) Verify the permissions that the app is needing to install
4) Avoid installing .apk files directly
5) Install malware protection on the device. Many of the large antivirus companies have Mobile apps and many of them are free.
What Do I Do If I Think I’m Already Infected?
If you think you’re infected with some kind of malware, you can take a few steps. Update your antivirus and run a virus scan. Update your antispyware and run a scan with that as well. If you’re still afraid your computer might be infected, you are welcome to call the IT Service Center at 660-785-4544 for information about local businesses who are able to remove viruses and other malware.
Additional Links and Information
Antivirus information for Truman students (Truman no longer provides free antivirus protection for students):
Free online virus scanner by Trend Micro:
Microsoft FAQ on malware:
Apple Security Information:
Android Malware Protection Apps: