Whenever you are surfing the internet you may be exposing your computer and personal information to certain risks. The most common dangers that you could encounter online are viruses and malware. In order to better protect yourself, you need to have an understanding of these threats and how they can compromise your security.
Even new computer users have probably heard of computer viruses. While in the early days of computing, viruses were designed mainly to cause annoyance and frustration to the user. They would do things like crash the system, destroy stored data and display messages, sometimes mocking or insulting the user. These types of viruses are rare nowadays and have been replaced by some who can do things that are a lot more sinister. Rather than annoy people, most viruses today are designed to either financially benefit their creators or to further some type of criminal undertaking. The most common type of virus found on the web is called a “Trojan Horse”, or simply “Trojan”. It is often hidden inside seemingly innocuous web pages or applications but can be a serious threat to your security.
There are thousands of different trojans out there which can steal your personal information like passwords, credit card numbers and banking details by recording your keystrokes. Some other trojans can let an attacker take over your computer and use it to commit various criminal acts. This can include using your internet connection to attack another website, send unsolicited junk mail (spam), or use your computer to act as a server hosting illegal materials pirated software.
Fortunately, there is protection available against viruses. There is a number of anti-virus programs available which can help prevent infections by scanning every file that is downloaded and every website that you visit for malicious software such as trojans. Some basic, yet effective, anti-virus programs are available for free download. You should note, however that there no anti-virus program can detect 100% of malicious software out there and that they need to be updated regularly in order to give you the best possible protection.
Another threat that you will face while surfing the web is called “Malware”. It basically consists of unwanted programs which are often hidden in a seemingly legitimate product. Malware has a few different sub-types according to what the malicious software does. Adware causes unwanted advertisements to pop-up when you use your computer to perform certain tasks like visiting a specific website. Spyware monitors your activity, such as the websites that you visit, or the programs that you run and collects the data so that it can be exploited for commercial purposes. Unlike viruses, some types of adware and spyware actually do have an uninstaller and can be simply removed from your system. However, this is the exception and not the norm. Most pieces of malware are extremely difficult to remove manually. This is why there are specific anti-malware scanners available which can help you scan your computer for potentially unwanted software and safely remove them. Malware scanners also run in the background as you surf the web and can block access to sites or downloads which are known to contain potentially undesirable features like adware of spyware.
No online security software is 100% effective in preventing infection by viruses or malware. Your best defense is to simply use common sense while using the internet. Don’t download attachments received in emails from people that you don’t know, especially if the attachment is a program. If you do download programs, make sure that they are from a trusted source and avoid getting software from peer-to-peer file sharing networks, as these are often filled with viruses. When you download and install any software make sure that you read through the terms and conditions carefully to ensure that it does not contain unwanted programs which will display advertising messages or monitor your activity while you are online.