Malware, or malicious software, is any type of application that can gain access to private information, disrupt a system or display unwanted advertising. Malware is a broad term used to describe a variety of harmful software such as computer viruses, trojans, ransomware, scareware, spyware or adware, all of which act differently and can come from different sources. In order to protect yourself against malware, it is crucial to be familiar with the different ways it can infect your PC. Here are five of the most common of them.
1. E-mail attachments
Phishing e-mails are one of the most common way malware spreads. Be suspicious of email attachments, especially if they come from an unknown party. In order to determine whether an email attachment might be dangerous, look at its extension. Files with the extension .exe, .msi., .bat. .com, .pif, .reg, .gs and others will run a code on your computer when opened. Many email services have the ability to block such attachments automatically. Password protected archives can also be dangerous, since the antivirus software is prevented by the password protection from examining it.
2. Drive-by downloads
When you visit a malicious website, malware can be automatically installed on your PC in a so-called ‘drive-by download’. Most of the times, these are legitimate websites that have been compromised by a hacker. Never open links sent in suspicious looking emails, as they can take you to such websites. Most drive-by downloads exploit vulnerabilities in your system and can easily be avoided by having the latest security updates installed.
3. Removable media
When you connect an infected drive such as a USB stick or an external hard drive to your PC, malware can be automatically installed on your computer Never use an external drive that you are not sure is completely safe, and always run a security scan of any removable drive that you connect to your computer.
4. Social engineering
It is estimated that almost half of all malware attacks take place using social engineering, various tactics that cybercriminals use to manipulate people into installing malware on their computers. Common social engineering tactics are scaring someone into downloading a false antivirus software by telling them that their computer is infected, or convincing someone to open a harmful attachment.
5. Downloaded software
Malware can come bundled up with the software downloaded from a third party website, or shared on peer-to-peer networks. Some software will try to install unwanted applications such as toolbars or programs that display intrusive advertising. If you read carefully what you are installing, you can usually opt out of these during your download, though some unwanted programs have no opt-out options. Think twice before installing software from a source you do not trust, and always download software from the official vendor’s page.
As the versatility of cyber criminals is on the rise, so are the ways in which malicious software can infect your PC. In order to protect your computer from malware, be suspicious of email attachments received from unknown parties, especially if they have a suspicious extension. Always download software from the original vendor, and not from third party websites or peer-to-peer networks. Watch out for manipulation tactics that cybercriminals can use to convince you to click on specific links.