Malware myths

Malware: the top five myths uncovered

With computer security issues hitting the headlines almost daily, we’re all very familiar with terms such as ‘malware’, ‘virus’ and ‘security risk’. Unfortunately, although most PC users make an effort to install some form of security software, many people’s preconceptions about malware and how it spreads are misguided, leaving their computers completely vulnerable to attack.

Here, we look at the Top 5 malware myths that can result in a system being compromised:

1. ’I will know when my computer is infected’

Actually, modern malware is stealthy, sneaky, and silent. In regards to the idea that your computer slows down or starts acting strangely because you have malware, that’s still the case for some types, but it is no longer the norm. Some types of malware masquerade as legitimate software, so you don’t even realise it’s malicious. Ransomware is loud and obnoxious, so you always know when that’s on your computer, but others burrow so deep into the operating system that you never notice their presence. This type of malware quietly collects all your sensitive information and sends it out of your computer to a remote server. After all, the longer the malware stays undetected, the more damage it can cause to or from your computer.

2. ’I don’t visit illegitimate or indecent websites, so I will be fine’

While sites for pornography and file-sharing can contain malware, most malware infections nowadays come from perfectly legitimate websites. These sites may have been hacked because of poor passwords or flaws in the software. Malvertisements, or online ads with malicious code embedded inside, are also abundant. Users are infected just by visiting the sites at the moment the ad is displayed. Avoiding the “dark and seedy corners of the Internet” is no longer sufficient to avoid malware attacks.

3. ’Macs don’t get malware’

This is perhaps the most damaging myth on this list, because even years after Apple quietly stopped making that claim on its Website, Mac users are still holding fast to the perception that Macs can’t get malware. While it’s true that malware is a bigger problem for Windows users, cyber-criminals are not going to miss out on infecting millions of Mac users. There have been a number of Mac-specific malware in recent years, and there are plenty of cross-platform malware, which can infect both Windows and Macs. There is no single operating system or browser that is immune from malware.

4. ’I don’t have anything worth stealing on my computer’

Even if you only store basic information on your PC, there’s plenty of data criminals can use. All those people in your email address book are potential recipients for spam and other malicious emails. The browser can be used in a “man-in-the-browser” attack to intercept your login credentials whenever you try to log in to your email or online banking accounts. You don’t need to be super-rich or super-powerful to be an attractive target for online criminals; just being you is lucrative enough.

5. ’I can just wipe the computer and restore from backup’

Many people think the best way to handle a malware infection is to wipe the computer, re-install the operating system, and just copy all the files back from backup. This is, on the surface, a very good plan, except for the fact that if you aren’t careful, you will restore the malicious file that started the whole mess in the first place. You need to make sure that your documents and data have been scanned, even the ones in your backup file, to make sure you don’t re-infect yourself each time.

Antivirus and other security software can help you remove malware, but you need to be aware of the dangers, so that you can protect yourself.

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