Is your computer acting strangely? Is it running slower than normal? Are you getting a lot of unwanted pop-ups? Are other unusual problems happening? If so, you may have malware!

What is Malware?

Malware is short for "malicious software." It is a type of computer program designed to infect a person’s computer and other devices in order to inflict harm in a number of ways. It can cause your computer to crash, monitor and control your Internet activity, and it can even steal your personal information! Malware most commonly infects your devices through the Internet and email, though you can also get infected through hacked websites, game demos, music files, software, free subscriptions, or anything else you download from the Web. 

Common Forms of Malware
  • Viruses: A virus has the capability of copying itself and spreading to other computers. It can spread by attaching itself to a number of programs and executes the malicious code once you launch one of the infected programs. - many people mistakenly use "viruses" interchangeably with the general term "malware."
  • Adware: Short for "advertising-supported software," adware delivers advertisements such as pop-up ads on websites and ads displayed by software. While adware may seem harmless, it is not uncommon to become bundled with spyware; the pair is significantly more dangerous than adware alone. 
  • Spyware: As the name suggests, spyware is software that spies on you without you even knowing. Some of its capabilities include monitoring your activity, collecting keystrokes, harvesting data, modifying security settings, and more. It can spread by taking advantage of vulnerabilities in software, bundling with legitimate software, or in trojan horses. 
  • Trojan Horses: A trojan horse disguises itself as a normal file type or program to trick you into downloading and installing malware (like the wooden horse statue that entered Troy!) Once installed, an attacker can steal data, install other forms of malware, modify files, and other malicious activity. In larger systems, a trojan horse can create a denial-of-service (DOS) attack, where it can make machines and network resources unreachable and unavailable. 
  • Worms: A worm is a program that, like a virus, replicates itself in order to destroy data and files on a device. While very similar, there are a few characteristics that distinguish worms from viruses – one being that worms do not need to rely on users to execute. It can self-replicate and spread independently. 
  • Ransomware: As its name suggests, ransomware essentially holds your computer system captive while demanding a ransom. There are two main types of ransomware: lockscreen and file-encrypting. Lockscreen ransomware pops up a window that takes over your device so that
This is scary! What can I do?

The single biggest factor in preventing a malware infection on your device is your behavior! The good news is that you’ve already taken the first step by getting informed. One of the first things you should do is understand what malware is and how it works. Now, it is your job to remain vigilant to avoid downloading and installing anything you do not understand or trust – no matter how tempting it may seem. You can also spread the word by talking to your friends about safe computing.

It is highly recommended that you regularly update your software and operating system. As new malware is introduced every day, companies release updates that fix the vulnerabilities attackers take advantage of.

Lastly and very importantly, you should run up-to-date security software such as anti-virus and anti-spyware. It checks any newly downloaded program to ensure that it is malware-free, periodically scans the computer to detect and defeat any malware that might have slipped through, and regularly updates to recognize the latest threats.

Have questions? We're here to help!

If you have questions about cybersecurity, or if you want to learn more about how to stay safe online, contact the Information Security Office (ISO) at: