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Why You Need Anti-Malware Protection

Posted on May 10, 2011
Some viruses are worse than the common cold. Some worms burrow into your computer and cause trouble. Trojan horses? This is not Sparta! Your computer faces threats from this and other malware every day.
 
Tags: anti-malware protection

They're easier to catch than the common cold — if you aren't careful, your computer could be riddled with malware. Find out, in plain English, exactly what viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware and rootkits are and why you need anti-malware protection from them.

Virus

A virus is basically just a small computer program. It's capable of replicating itself, hence the name "virus," and is usually written to perform some malicious act and to get computer users to spread it unknowingly. True viruses are much less common today than many other forms of malware described below.

Worm

Also a small computer program, a worm is distinguishable from a virus in that it spreads itself, without user intervention, once it has infected a computer. Worms, like viruses, take advantage of "auto-run" type presets. The only widespread "virus" on the Macintosh platform so far has been the Autostart Worm, in 1998. The Autostart Worm replicated and spread via removable media — Zip disks — and took advantage of Apple's CD Autoplay feature, which came enabled in the operating system by default, in order to run itself.

Trojan Horse

A Trojan horse, usually shortened to simply Trojan, is malware that comes disguised as something else. It is less likely that removable media might contain a Trojan, as they're often hidden in peer-to-peer downloads or pretend to be a compressed file of images or software. Remember though: USB drives are less likely to be carrying Trojans, but it's not impossible in the least.

Spyware

Spyware is a program installed with or without the user's knowledge that is used to monitor your activity. Spyware is dangerous because it can obtain and transmit to hackers your personal information, such as computer passwords, bank account information, social security number, and anything you might type on your computer, whether at a secure website or not.

Sometimes spyware arrives bundled, secretly or not, with applications and files downloaded via peer-to-peer networks, and sometimes the definition of spyware depends on who's talking at the moment — what one person views as spyware another might view as a useful statistical tool. In general, however, it's best to avoid installing any software that might track your activity and to disable and trash software that your antivirus scanner identifies as spyware.

Rootkit

A rootkit is another type of malicious computer program, arguably the worst of the bunch, even though it technically isn't hurting anyone on its own. That's right: a rootkit is just a program that hides itself within your operating system. Its sole purpose is to mask the activity of the malware it came with, as well as to make sure the malware keeps running and even makes sure the rootkit itself is difficult to remove.

When a rootkit is installed on your system, your computer can be manipulated by an outsider and is known as a "zombie." When a hacker has control over several zombie computers, this is known as a botnet, from the words robotnetwork. Your computer may be used to send spam emails, help launch a denial-of-service (DoS) attack on a website, or to spread viruses and Trojans to other computers.

A good anti-malware protection program will help to stop these threats in their tracks. In addition to running anti-malware or antivirus software, be an alert user. Don't download files from suspicious sources or click untrusted links. Once you make sure that you know and trust where your files come from, the battle is nearly won.


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