Are you worried about viruses and malware?

What is the difference between a virus and malware?

While viruses and malware are not precisely the same thing, the terms are interchangeable in common usage. Computer viruses are a form of malware. There are some forms of malware that are not viruses, generally these are milder. Other types of malware include worms, trojans and spyware. Malware comes from the words malicious and software. I will discuss the different forms of malware in more depth on the Web Safety Guru course.

How does a computer get infected with malware?

This can happen in a number of ways. You may have visited an infected website or downloaded some infected software. You can get clues as to how you have downloaded a specific piece of malware and I'll teach you more about how you can investigate this on the course.

How can I tell if my computer is infected with malware?

The most reliable method is to scan your computer with your anti-virus / anti-malware software but this isn't 100% accurate. A scan can report a false positive or miss malware for reasons I will explain in the next couple of questions. You should be suspicious if your computer suddenly runs a lot slower than usual, especially when performing a particular task. Another warning sign is a lot of unusual popups or your browser changing its default homepage for no good reason.

I think my computer is infected with malware but the scans keep coming up negative, How is this possible?

One likely explanation is that the malware is newer than the anti-malware software you are using. How can your anti-malware protect you against something it doesn't recognise as malware. Fir this reason it is vitally important you keep your anti-virus / anti-malware software up to date.

Another possibility is that the malware is simply too clever for the anti-malware software. It is possible for it to remain undetected. Malware is sometimes sophisticated enough to disable your anti-malware software and stop it running altogether. If you have reached this stage, there are still solutions but they get increasingly complicated and time consuming. Do not rule out the possibility this has happened but at the same time it should not be the first conclusion you jump to.

What are false positives?

Sometimes your anti-malware software will report malware when there is none. I will explain the scenarios in much more detail on the course. One common explanation is that your anti-malware software comes across something anonymous and flags it as malware to be on the safe side. Another reason could be that you have multiple versions of anti-malware software running and that each flags the other as malware. I will explain why on the course.

What could go wrong if my computer is infected with malware?

There are a range of possible outcomes depending on the type of malware on your PC. Some malware can be practically harmless while some viruses can render your computer unusable. A particularly concerning form of malware is the keylogger which records everything you type. I will discuss this issue in more detail in Viruses and Malware section of the course.

How do I remove a virus or malware from my computer?

If you are lucky the malware on your computer will be detected when you run a scan, this will then give you the option to quarantine the offending file(s). In more serious cases it might be necessary to format your hard drive. There are scenarios between these two extremes. Suffice to say, the more complicate removals can take you time and cause great inconvenience, so keep you anti-malware / anti-virus software up to date to minimise these risks.

How can I prevent my computer from getting malware or viruses?

It is practically impossible to eliminate the risk of viruses altogether. However there are a lot of steps you can take to improve your chances. Keeping your software up to date is important. This includes your operating system as well as your anti-virus software. If you can establish where you have picked up viruses before, you'll know to avoid certain websites. Don't download software from unknown sources. Avoid opening emails or Facebook messages if you are suspicious as to their true origin.

What anti-virus protection can you recommend?

I will not recommend specific products here because the best product at a particular time might no longer be the best in a year. This is a constantly evolving landscape. I have used products which were great when I first installed them but were rubbish a couple of years later. The best strategy would be to have one, and only one, anti-virus product and one anti-malware product. If you have more than one of each there is a danger of them reporting their rival as a false positive. If you are downloading anti-virus / anti-malware software over the internet, make sure you visit the correct site. There would be considerable risks in downloading an authorised version which may not work and, worse still, may be infected. Follow the precautions detailed on the manufacturer's website.


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Web Safety Guru offers one to one computer training designed to keep you safe online.

We'll discuss: passwords and security, email scams, viruses and malware, cookies and privacy, safety on social media and safety on public networks.

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