What is malware – and how can you protect yourself against it?

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Even though you may not exactly understand what malware is, it is definitely not something you want on your computer. (Photo: Getty)

There are certain cybersecurity terms that are widely used, and while most people have heard of them, they may be a little vague as to their exact meaning. Malware is one of them.

Know this up front: Even though you may not understand exactly what malware is, it’s definitely not something you want on your computer. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) calls malware one of the biggest threats to the security of your computer, tablet, phone and other devices. In short, malware is something you want to take seriously.

Fortunately, software like Malwarebytes Premium Multi-Device can help ward off and detect malware on your computer. But again, it’s a good idea to at least know what you’re trying to protect yourself from before you get all your defenses lined up. So, what is malware? Here’s what you need to know.

Buy it: Malwarebytes Premium Multi-Device, 30-day free trial, then $4.99 per month, subscriptions.yahoo.com

What exactly is malware?

“Malware is an all-encompassing term that includes many forms of intentionally malicious software,” Joseph Steinberg, consultant on cybersecurity and emerging technologies, tells Yahoo Life. The term “malware” is actually a combination of the words “malicious” and “software,” he explains.

Malware “consists of various delivery elements that can be used to infect [devices], including viruses, worms, trojans, ransomware, spyware, adware, and other mechanisms,” tech and cybersecurity expert Chuck Brooks, president of Brooks Consulting International, tells Yahoo Life.

Malware is also becoming more popular over time, Brooks notes. “Lately, malware has become a weapon of choice as it has become more profitable as hackers can encrypt and exfiltrate data and extort payments from their victims via cryptocurrencies,” he says.

Malware can help cyber criminals steal your personal information.  (Photo: Getty)

Malware can help cyber criminals steal your personal information. (Photo: Getty)

Why is malware so bad?

For starters, most people don’t realize when they have malware. The FTC points out that it is often secretly installed on your device. And once it’s there, criminals can use malware to do a few different, unsavory things, like:

  • Steal your sensitive information (like your bank account password)

  • Sending you unwanted or inappropriate advertisements

  • Demand you pay them to decrypt data encrypted by ransomware

  • Make your computer vulnerable to even more malware

“People should learn the basics of it, because malware poses a serious threat to every user of computers and smartphones,” Steinberg says.

Signs You May Have Malware

The FTC shares a few helpful tips that suggest you may have malware on your computer:

  • It suddenly slows down, crashes or shows error messages repeatedly

  • It won’t shut down or restart

  • You cannot remove software with it

  • You get a lot of pop-ups, inappropriate ads or ads that interfere with the content you are trying to view

  • It shows ads in places you wouldn’t normally see it, like government websites

  • It shows new and unexpected toolbars or icons in your browser or on your desktop

  • It uses a new default search engine

  • It shows new tabs or websites that you have not opened

  • Your computer’s Internet home page is constantly changing

  • Your computer is sending emails you didn’t write

  • Your computer is draining faster than it should

If you get a lot of pop-ups, inappropriate ads or ads that interfere with the content you are trying to view, your device may be infected with malware.  (Photo: Getty)

If you get a lot of pop-ups, inappropriate ads or ads that interfere with the content you are trying to view, your device may be infected with malware. (Photo: Getty)

How to protect your computer from malware

Antivirus and intrusion detection software is essential, Brooks says. Steinberg agrees. “Use security software on all your computing devices,” he says. Software like Malwarebytes Premium Multi-Device offers multi-layered, advanced security to give you constant protection against a range of major existing and emerging threats, including malware, viruses, spyware, online scams and ransomware before they reach you.

Other advice on protecting your computer from malware, courtesy of cybersecurity experts:

  • Don’t click links in email and text unless you expect them ze

  • Install firewalls

  • Secure your internet routers

  • Use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which allow you to create a private network from a public Internet connection

  • If you have sensitive data, consider encrypting and backing it up

  • Store your data in the cloud, where security can be managed by a provider

Of course, the best way to protect your computer from malware is to fend it off before it reaches you. Getting good antiviral software now will help keep you — and your data — safe now and in the future.

Buy it: Malwarebytes Premium Multi-Device, 30-day free trial, then $4.99 per month, subscriptions.yahoo.com

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