Malware, or malicious software, is a common tool that hackers use to damage your computer and steal your information. Typically, malware is installed without your knowledge, and then secretly operates to achieve its harmful purpose.
How malware affects you
There are many forms of malware, each designed to attack your computer in a particular way.
- Viruses – Corrupt and delete files, which damages the way your system functions
- Trojans – Appear as legitimate software but in fact destroy and steal data
- Adware – Deploys pop-up ads that disrupt your computer’s performance
- Ransomware – Blocks access to a system, then requires you to pay money to restore it
- Spyware – Collects your private information and uses it for fraudulent purposes
While a poorly functioning computer is frustrating enough, the theft of your personal information is particularly serious. Malware is often used to steal your financial information, including account numbers, credit card numbers, user IDs and passwords.
Signs of malware
Identifying that your machine is infected with malware is the first step to resolving the issue. Here are typical signs that your computer has malware:
- Sudden slowdown in system performance
- Slower start-up time after powering on
- Unexpected quitting of your browser
- Links that don’t work or take you to unrelated pages
- Pop-up windows that appear for no apparent reason
- Unexplained emails that appear in your “Sent” folder
Find and remove malware from your computer
If you suspect malware on your computer, it’s important to find and remove it as quickly as possible. Until malware is removed, be sure to stop all online shopping and banking activity that requires you to enter account information.
Here are some steps you can take to rid your computer of malware and have it operating normally again:
- Confirm that your security software is active and has the latest virus and malware definition files.
- Run a complete scan of your computer, deleting anything the software says is malware or a virus.
- Search the website of your security software maker for new malware alerts and fixes.
If these steps don’t appear to resolve your malware issue, you may need to re-install your operating system or consult a computer repair center.
Protect yourself from malware
- Use multiple layers of security, including firewall settings and antivirus software.
- Update your computer’s operating systems with the latest security patches.
- Get the latest updates for your web browser, which often include new antivirus features.
- Be cautious with email even if it appears to be from friends. Fraudulent attachments can install malware, and fake links can take you to malware websites.
- Download software and apps only from trusted sources. Be wary of file-sharing sites or “free” offers.
Minimize your risk of identity theft by knowing the warning signs and learning ways to protect yourself, both online and offline.
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