Malware, including computer viruses, worms and Trojans are small but malicious software programs designed to interfere with computer operation. They can be merely annoying and send email to all of your contacts. Or, they can be destructive and delete or corrupt files on your computer, making them unusable.
Malicious computer programs often spread via attachments or downloadable files (including, but not limited to, PDFs, image files, greeting cards and audio files). These programs are sometimes sent as part of a “phishing” message, disguised as a legitimate-looking, but fake email message from a well-known business (or even a friend).
When a user opens one of these phony email messages or downloads an infected file, the malware installs itself on the computer hard drive and wreaks whatever havoc it is designed to do. A worm might send another infected message to everyone on your email list; a virus might steal your passwords or slow your computer to a crawl. Trojans might wait for a certain date and then delete files, steal data from financial institutions, or control industrial equipment software at a factory.
Computer security companies continually work on methods to detect and remove malware. They do this proactively by creating stronger firewalls, and reactively by updating detection software when a new form of malware is unleashed.
To protect your computer from viruses and other malware, practice the following simple techniques for safe browsing and email habits.
How to protect your computer from viruses, worms, and malware
- Regularly create a secure backup using a back-up device that is not continually connected to your computer. Files on an internal or external hard disk drive that are connected at the time of an attack can also be infected by active malware. After creating a backup of your files, remove the internal disk or disconnect external drive.
- Install software updates regularly. Some crucial programs to update: Microsoft Windows and Office (or other operating systems such as Macintosh or Linux), Adobe Reader, Java Runtime and any anti-virus software.
- Separate business and play. Because of their popularity and broad use, social and gaming sites are likely ways to contract infectious programs. This is especially true of free online gaming websites, instant messaging sites and file-sharing sites. If possible, conduct these higher-risk activities on a separate computer from business, financial and shopping transactions.
- Check the legitimacy of links received in emails and social media messages. To do this, simply place the mouse cursor over (but don’t click) any link in an email. A pop-up will appear either over the link or in the lower corner of your screen. This will show you the actual web address, which of course should match the link name.
- Think before you click. Never click on email links and attachments, even in legitimate email messages. Instead, go to the source. For example, if you are tracking a UPS shipment, go directly to the UPS website and enter your tracking number to check the status.
- Turn on the firewall for your operating system. Microsoft Windows, Macintosh and other operating systems offer firewall features that allow you to prevent undesirable applications from running or installing without your express permission.
- Activate security features of your Internet browser. For example, use “SmartScreen Filter” on Internet Explorer, “Phishing and Malware Protection” on Google Chrome and “Block Attack Sites” on Mozilla Firefox.
If you have been a victim of an Internet scam, please file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. For more information Internet scams, please visit the FBI’s E-Scams and Warnings page.