350,000 malware versions are identified every day, according to the internet security website, Safe at Last. The same study revealed that new malware is released every seven seconds, increasing their activity up to 61% last 2018.
Malware takes many forms and can invade your computer in a multitude of ways. Ransomware, which means taking over control over a user’s device using malware and then asking for payment, was the most popular malware until cryptominers dethroned it in the first half of 2018. Ransomware is still widely used to attack computers and other devices, but the attackers have switched to manual and targeted attacks, as evidenced by the successful SamSam attacks last year.
Aside from ransomware and crypto miners, trojans, viruses, worms, adware, malvertising, and spyware are some of the most common forms of malware that we are familiar with.
How Can Malware Infect Your Computer?
Everyone can be affected by malware and every device that connects to the internet is vulnerable to infection. Whether you’re using a desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other smart devices, malware can easily attack your device if you’re not extra careful.
Users who visit spammy sites or download pirated materials over torrent are more at risk. But even if you don’t, just neglecting to install security updates for your operating system can get you into trouble. The rate with which these threats evolve is so scary. Plus, hackers are getting more creative in devising ways to trick unwary users into downloading malware.
Spam emails are known to be the most common malware distribution method. These are emails designed to make you click the link and install malware on your computer. For example, hackers can pretend to be someone from your bank or other legitimate organization and asks you to verify or update your account by clicking the link provided in the body of the email. This is an old trick.
Users are now more wary of these scams so hackers are now employing other methods to install malware on people’s computers.
How to Know If Your Computer Is Infected?
Some malware are easy to spot, but most of the time users don’t know their computer is infected until it’s too late. If you see a new program on your computer that you don’t remember installing, there is a huge chance that it has been installed by a malware. If you see new shortcuts that don’t seem to point anywhere, that’s also probably malware.
Here are some of the common symptoms of malware infection that you should watch out for:
Your computer is slowing down. If your computer programs crash, freeze, run slowly or take longer than usual to launch, then you’re probably dealing with viruses on your computer.
Annoying ads are displayed.
Adware are known to display ads, not only when browsing, but when using other programs as well. Some ads even pop up in the desktop even when the computer is idle.
Not enough disk space error message pops up.
If you’re getting the “You’re running out of disk space on Windows (C:)>” error message out of the blue, check your computer’s main hard drive. Malware can be consuming physical storage for its activities. Try clearing some storage first using a PC cleaning software. If you’re still getting the error message after deleting some stuff, then your computer is probably infected by malware.
Internet traffic suspiciously increases.
A sudden spike in your internet activities, especially when no one is using it, means that there must be something going on somewhere by piggybacking your internet connection.
Your browser homepage changed without your input.
One of the most obvious signs of malware infection is when your browser’s default homepage suddenly changes without any action from you. For example, if you’re using Google and then your computer loads Bing or other webpages, that’s probably done by malware. You also have to watch out for new toolbars or extensions installed on your browser without your knowledge.
Unfamiliar icons or shortcuts are displayed on your desktop.
Be wary when you see any foreign apps, icons, files, or shortcuts anywhere on your computer.
You can’t access the Control Panel or your antimalware is turned off.
Some malware works by disabling your computer’s security settings to prevent you from detecting and uninstalling the malicious software.
Different types of malware work in different ways, so you need to watch out for anything unusual on your computer.
What to Do If Your Computer Is Infected With Malware?
If you suspect that your computer is infected with malware, the first thing you need to do is stop what you’re doing and run a scan. If you can’t access your antivirus or anti-malware, you might need to boot into Safe Mode to be able to launch the program. Uninstall unfamiliar programs, extensions, or toolbars, then delete all files associated with the malware.
If this doesn’t work, you may need to reformat your computer and reinstall your operating system.
How to Improve Your Computer’s Security
But you don’t have to wait for your computer to get infected before taking some actions. To prevent the hassle, data loss, and other consequences brought by a malware infection, there are several steps you can take to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place.
Also Read: How to Keep your Laptop Data Safe
Here are some practical ways to minimize the risk of malware infection on your computer:
1. Always Connect to a Secure Network.
Hackers operate through your internet connection. Whether it’s sending out spam emails or visiting dodgy websites, you need an internet connection to do so. Your first line of defense should focus on your router because it is the first device that receives information from the internet. To do this, you need to visit your router’s settings page and tweak some configurations.
Here are some tips to secure your router:
- Change the default password of your router to something stronger and more secure.
- Change the SSID or the Wireless Network Name to differentiate your network from others.
- Encrypt your wireless signals using various encryption methods, such as Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), WPA (WPA-Personal), and WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access version 2).
- Specify which MAC addresses are allowed to connect to your Wi-Fi network.
- Limit the range of your wireless signal.
- Update your router’s firmware regularly.
2. Enable Your Firewall.
The firewall is the gatekeeper that controls the flow of information between your device and the internet. Most major operating systems have their own firewall. Plus, most routers also have their own built-in firewall for added protection.
To enable the firewall on Windows 10, follow these steps:
- Press Windows key + X, then choose Control Panel from the menu.
- Click System and Security > Windows Firewall.
- Tick off Turn on Windows Firewall under the Private and Public network settings.
- Click OK and close the window.
3. Install an Antivirus or Anti-Malware Software on Your Computer.
Modern operating systems have built-in security software to protect the device from malware. Unfortunately, these are not enough because these apps only provide basic protection. If you want complete protection against malware, you may need to install a third-party antivirus or anti-malware to detect and get rid of malicious software on your computer.
Once you have an antivirus or anti-malware installed, configure regular scans to detect possible infections as early as possible. Take note of changes in your computer settings as well, because this could be a symptom of malware.
4. Secure Your Web Browser.
Most malware attacks take advantage of web browsers, so securing them is a critical step in ensuring your computer’s security. Web browsers, by default, don’t have secure settings when installed. Here are some privacy settings you need to configure on your browser to improve your security:
- Turn off pop-ups and redirections.
- Don’t allow automatic downloads.
- Delete cookies after browsing and disable third-party access to cookies.
- Set your browser to request permission before accessing your location, camera, and microphone.
- Enable Send a Do Not Track request.
Another option for safe browsing is by using private or incognito mode. Although it won’t give you full privacy, but at least your web history, form data, browser cache, and cookies won’t be stored when you quit the browser.
5. Always Update Your Operating System.
Major operating systems regularly update their security software to address newly-discovered vulnerabilities. You might feel that installing these updates can be time-consuming and annoying, but you need to understand that these updates are designed to decrease your exposure to possible risks. If you don’t want to deal with downloading and installing these updates each time they are released, you may want to turn on automatic updates on your computer.
If you’re using Windows 10, here are the steps to enable Automatic Updates:
- Click Start, then go to Settings->Update & Security-> Windows Update.
- Click the Advanced Options link.
- Under Choose how updates are installed, choose Automatic (recommended).
With this feature turned on, Windows 10 will automatically download all available updates in the background, and you can choose when to install them.
6. Keep Your Personal Information Private.
With the popularity of social media, getting somebody’s personal information has become a lot easier. You just need to check the person’s social media profile to know about important information about him or her — birthday, birth place, address, school and work information, email address, and even mobile number! So when filling out your social media profiles, keep it bare. Don’t use your full name if possible, and don’t share personal information that are not required for creating the account.
7. Keep Good Security Practices in Mind.
You can improve your computer’s security by doing simple things, such as:
- Using strong passwords – Don’t use a generic password for all your accounts. Create a strong password by using a combination of random letters, numbers, and characters so it is not easy to guess.
- Exercising caution when filling out sensitive information – Some attackers disguise themselves as legitimate organizations asking for your personal information. Make sure the website is legitimate before giving out your information.
- Being wary of email attachments and links – Don’t click on unknown links or open email attachments unless you are sure they are safe.
Malware is everywhere, but it is not impossible to avoid getting infected. The preventive measures listed above will greatly help in keeping your computer free of malicious software. Remember, information is worth a lot of money these days. Keeping a tight grip on your hardware and your online activities protects you from possible attacks.
As a Journalist by profession, April Reyes has extensive experience in writing about various topics under the sun, including technology, gadgets, travel, social media, and digital marketing. If she’s not writing articles for Software Tested and Outbyte, she’s either watching her favorite TV series or playing video games.