Malware is a general term for malicious software. This includes viruses, adware, spyware, keyloggers, worms, trojan horses, rootkits, and any other program which causes damage or poses a security threat to your computer.
A malware program can do one or several of the following:
- Damage your files and operating system
- Monitor which websites you visit in order to target you with advertisements
- Make the computer unusable, slow and full of unwanted ads and banners
- Log your keystrokes to copy your passwords, credit card details and email addresses
- Send spam email or viruses from your computer
- Put your computer under someone else's control
If you suspect malware
Signs of infection
These are signs that your computer is infected with malware:
- Your computer has slowed down significantly, crashes frequently, or is otherwise not functioning normally.
- Unwanted toolbars have been added to your web browser.
- Pop-up advertisements keep appearing on your computer.
- You are frequently seeing alerts from a program you don't recognise or can't get rid of.
You can also have malware on your computer without any noticeable symptoms.
What to do in case of infection
- Don't connect your computer to the internet or to another computer. This could spread the virus, or expose your computer to more viruses.
- Do make copies of your important files on CD or USB pen. Be careful using them with other computers, as they might get infected from your computer.
- Do run a full scan using Kaspersky Anti-Virus, or your own anti-virus software.
- For help, or to arrange attendance at a free laptop checkup session, please contact IS.Helpline@ed.ac.uk.
If Windows won't start up, try its failsafe mode. Re-start the computer and repeatedly press F8 while it is loading, and when a menu appears select "safe mode" (detailed instructions linked below Windows XP and for Windows Vista). When Windows has started in this mode, try running a full virus scan using Kaspersky or your own anti-virus software.
How to prevent infection
Your computer is not malware-proof by default, so you need to make it more secure:
- Turn on Automatic Updates for your computer.
- Verify your computer's built-in firewall (or your 3rd party firewall) is running.
- Install Kaspersky Anti-Virus, our anti-virus software for Windows, free to staff and students. You are free to use your own anti-virus software, but it must be set to regularly update its anti-virus information over the internet.
- The Internet Explorer browser is more often targeted by malware than competing browsers such as Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, or Opera. However the choice of browser alone will not give you any significant advantage.
Good practice guidelines for avoiding virus infection:
- Never open unsolicited e-mail attachments, even from people you know. The attachment may have been sent by malware on their computer - the messages are designed to get you to click the attachment ("Check out what I found").
- Don't download "free ringtones", "free smileys", and toolbars unless from a source you know and trust. Many of these freebies contain malware. Also avoid dubious music and file downloading sites.
- Avoid clicking on pop-up advertisements - close them instead.
- Download files only from reputable sources. Read the license agreement before you install new software.
- Peer-to-peer filesharing programs often come bundled with malware.
- Avoid malware masquerading as anti-spyware. If in doubt: Before you install a program, make sure it is genuine e.g. by searching for the name of the program in a search engine.
- If at any time you see a message asking you to allow a program to run: If you recognise the program or you were doing something on the computer which likely caused the message, say yes. If you were just browsing the web when the message appeared, say no.
Have backup copies of all your important files, as well as a Windows installation CD. In some severe cases, rebuilding the computer is the only way of dealing with the infection.
Using anti-spyware programs
Unlike anti-virus software, it is safe to install more than one anti-spyware program on your computer. However, only some serious infections need to be dealt with using several spyware removers. If you know the name of the malware that is infecting your computer (e.g. Vundo), you can search the sites linked below for specific advice on removing the infection.
However, as it is impossible for a single program to defend against all possible spyware, in some cases it might become necessary to download additional programs.
A number of free anti-spyware programs are available. As with anti-virus software, you will need to keep these programs up-to-date and run regular scans to ensure that your computer stays free of spyware. Programs described as 'anti-spyware' will typically deal with all types of malware except viruses. However, never install a spyware removal program on your computer unless you have verified that it is genuine. Many free 'anti-spyware' tools that are advertised in pop-ups and banner ads on the internet are themselves malware, and should not be downloaded.
The following are genuine, free spyware removers available for Windows computers:
Spybot Search & Destroy
Windows Defender (Windows Vista computers come with this program already installed)
This article was published on Aug 5, 2010