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IT Corner

MALWARE – AN OVERVIEW, and How to Stay Safe Online

Barbican-based Dan Hobart tells us all about computer viruses, trojans, worms and other malicious programs which can make life difficult, or impossible, for the computer user


alware (meaning “malicious software” – a term that includes viruses, trojans, worms , rootkits, ad-ware and

spyware) is the single biggest cause of PC problems in the world today. Common symptoms of malware include unsolicited pop-up windows offering security or anti-virus products, ‘browser hooks’ which redirect your web browsing attempts when searching or typing an address in the address bar, and repeated error messages suggesting a virus or disk problem is affecting the system.

The primary purpose of malware is to

make money by selling bogus products, generate affiliate revenue by forcing websites upon users, and in the most grave instances, attempt to steal information stored on the PC such as usernames, passwords, addresses, etc for the purposes of identity theft and credit card fraud. Additionally, some malware exists simply that its owners may call upon the infected machine’s resources when needed (this is known as a bot-net). Millions of infected machines can be used to bring down websites with Denial of Service (DOS) attacks, or email spam campaigns. Removing malware can be a difficult process. Despite the continual cat-and- mouse game that exists between malware authors and anti-virus software developers, the surest way to eradicate a malware infection is to wipe the machine and reinstall everything, This is because malware often has tertiary effects which are not dealt with when an anti-virus product removes the infected files – such as the opening of back-doors and vulnerabilities within the system that allow subsequent malware infections much more easily.

Indeed, it’s a fairly common occurrence to employ an anti-virus product to successfully remove a virus, only for that same virus to resurface after rebooting the machine. With persistence however, it is possible to remove at least the most obnoxious effects of an infection with a combination of products and manually removing files and editing corrupted registry entries. However – this may not be sufficient if the PC contains sensitive information, as the machine can no longer be considered trustworthy. Clearly prevention is much better than a cure when it comes to malware, and this falls not just to anti-malware solutions, but also user education. Quite simply – do you have a feel for how your machine normally behaves? Do you understand the question that Internet Explorer is asking you when you clicked on that link? Blindly answering “yes” to every question your computer asks you will greatly increase your chances of suffering

a malware infection – whether or not you’re running anti-virus software. The vast majority of malicious software enters your machine via infected or malicious web pages. And those pages are not hard to spot – is your web browser starting to bombard you with questions and warnings? Are you starting to see popup windows? A well-behaved website will quietly present you with information – all others should be treated with caution.

Never have more than one resident anti-virus product on your machine, as this will render both ineffective. It’s fine to install numerous on-demand anti- malware solutions, as they only run when you ask them to scan the machine. You could for instance install the free versions of AVG and Malwarebytes as AVG will remain resident, scanning all your files, links and emails as they are accessed, while Malwarebytes can be used to manually scan the machine periodically for anything that ‘slipped


Example of a Fake Anti- Virus warning

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