Malware: Virus and Antivirus

Every computer user has encountered malware in some form and we know that it should be avoided. But do you know exactly what malware is? What the difference is between malware and a virus? How to get rid of malware and make sure it stays gone?

What is malware?

If you’re going to learn how to use the internet safely then you’re going to need to know what to avoid. The word of the day is malware. malware stands for “malicious software” and consists of any software used to gather sensitive information, disrupt computer operation, or gain access to private computer systems.

Malware is an evil that takes many forms: it can be executable code, scripts, active content and many other flavours of software:

  • Executable files, or executables, are used to perform tasks according to encoded instructions. Executables are a very common kind of file that is also used to install perfectly innocent programmes.
  • Scripts are essentially executable dominoes: rather than clicking several executable tasks manually, a script, once started, will perform the same process automatically.
  • Active content refers to content that is interactive or dynamic, for example a stock counter ticking down in real-time as items are purchased.

What are the different kinds of malware?

Many people think that virus and malware are interchangeable terms, but this isn’t the case: alongside worms, trojan horses, scareware, ransomware, adware and spyware, a virus is actually a type of malware.

Malware is the blanket term and everything else is just a type of malware. If a poorly made video game were to cause your computer to crash this would not be considered malware because it doesn’t intentionally cause a problem: software is only considered malware if it intentionally causes harm, i.e. is malicious.

What do the different kinds of malware do?

A computer virus refers to a specific kind of malware. A virus, much like it’s real world namesake, seeks to replicate itself throughout a system and “infect” more and more files. They can then perform malicious processes on the host system: such as accessing private information, corrupting data, or just denying use.

A Trojan Horse will invariably disguise itself as something desirable, a program, game, or film for example, which the user then opens. Once activated the Trojan will then go about installing its malicious payload, possibly still disguised as a conventional install.

Concealment is essential for successfully installed malware. A Rootkit is used to hide from the user. By editing the host’s operating system, malware can be hidden from the list of process’s, from being read or located and ultimately from the user.

Ransomware, Spyware, Adware and Scareware have very specific uses:

  • Ransomware restricts access to the user’s machine and literally demands a ransom be paid to the creator in return for control.
  • Spyware is used to gather information on the target system, it literally spies on you.
  • Adware is used to specifically target ads or put ads where they aren’t supposed to be in order to create revenue for the author.
  • Scareware, included in a class of malware called Rogueware, is used to scare the user into doing something. A common method is to convince a user that their computer is infected and that they should download some fake antivirus software to remove it.

How can I avoid malware?

Here are a few simple steps to avoiding malware:

  • If you stick to trusted and reputable websites then you are certainly less likely to encounter malware. If you aren’t sure about a website then do a little research beforehand. Websites, particularly online stores, receive a rating through Google and other sites.
  • Be sure that everything is up to date! Often exploits and flaws in programmes or operating systems will be patched up in subsequent updates. Particularly your OS and browser.
  • Don’t answer or click on links in unsolicited emails, particularly emails that ask for bank or credit card information.Your bank will not ask for this information via email.
  • If you are going to venture into the darker parts of the internet, then try not to click on any active content: often included in pop-ups or adverts.
  • If you download a program then make sure it is either from the publisher’s website or from a reputable download site.
  • If an offer looks too good to be true then it probably is. For example a free version of Abode Premiere Pro is certainly too good to be true.
  • If a problem starts to occur after a particular program’s installed then try uninstalling before calling the nearest computer repair firm. Although this isn’t necessarily malware, it’s certainly worth bearing in mind. Some programmes are just badly made, not malicious.

How can I remove malware?

If you haven’t managed to avoid the dreaded malware then you’ll need to know how to get rid of it:

  • Antivirus software is your first stop. You also have to make sure that you have the latest version available; otherwise it could miss news bugs and exploits.
  • Real-time scanning. Almost all modern pieces of antivirus software come with a “real-time” component which will scan downloads, updates, or even websites, as and when you interact with them
  • A Firewall controls the information that comes from the internet to you and then back out again, according to an applied rule set. For example “Let YouTube in, keep viruses out”.
  • A spam filter on your email will hopefully mean that you won’t have to worry about those nasty phishing emails.