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Malware is malicious software that consists of programming, for example code or scripts, designed to disrupt the performance of PCs, laptops, handheld devices, etc.

Malware can also collect information or data from infected devices and pass them on to another device. Malware is often referred to as viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware, dishonest adware, scareware, and crimeware.

Remote access can be a concern and can be obtained via rootkits. Most rootkits are used safely and securely to provide support to users, but some can be used for fraudulent purposes. Be certain that when you allow someone to remotely access your computer they are from a trusted source, for example, your internet service provider.

What malware can do

  • Spyware can track users, alert them to display advertising. When the user clicks on the link they can be taken to a website which is likely to install a virus or other malicious programming.
  • Keyloggers can track users’ input on their keyboards. This is usually in an effort to commit bank fraud or to access personal login details.
  • Scareware imitates valid software, e.g. antivirus packages to convince users that an upgrade is needed. This upgrade will have a fee attached to it and will not exist.
  • Ransomware copies personal files or photos. A demand is then issued for money in return for the images or files. The consequence will be the online release of the images and files to third parties with the intention to embarrass the victim.

What you can do to protect yourself

  • Always use legitimate antivirus software and keep it up to date: Installing reputable antivirus software is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself from malware.  The software checks your computer periodically for malicious programmes and monitors files to be opened. Antivirus software can be purchased online (take precautions and always purchase from a trusted site) as well as via retailers.  It must be kept up to date to maintain the best level of protection. Organisations that specialise in tackling malware continually work to identify new viruses and develop added protection available through updates.  
  • Know and understand what you are installing on a personal device: When installing software be aware of what you are installing especially if it is from an online source on both computers and tablets as well as smart phones. Look out for indications that you are using a secure site (with a key or padlock symbol) with the address prefix https:/  when you are paying for an antivirus package. If you’re unsure don’t make the transaction or download any software until you can obtain advice.
  • Keep your firewall switched on: Firewalls can prevent access to your computer from unknown outside sources.  Many operating systems, such as Windows, come with built in firewall settings. Depending on its setting a firewall can monitor and warn you of unauthorised access to your computer. Users have the option of switching the firewall off but this is not advised.
  • If you don’t recognise the source or the sender avoid clicking on emails, text and internet popup messages: Don’t allow curiosity to lead you astray. Avoid opening attachments or clicking on website links from unknown sources. If the subject is something of interest and is legitimate there will be another, safer source of information. If an e-mail from a known source appears in your inbox with an unusually worded subject do not click on the link or attachment. Verify that it was genuinely from the sender. The risk is that their computer or email may have been hacked and is being used maliciously.
  • Know your way around the internet: The internet is always evolving with almost infinite opportunities and many pitfalls. As in any area of personal safety, awareness is the first and best means of protecting yourself. When you are aware you can actively practice prevention. Know the risks when going online, develop your sensibilities about the web. Exercise the same level of caution in the virtual environments as you would in  physical environments.
  • Keeping safer with “virtualization” software: Heavy users of the internet may find that virtualization software can provide additional peace of mind. This software creates the effect of an authentic computer. When the user runs the virtual environment, they can install almost any operating system. Microsoft is one of the organisations that can provide information about virtualization software.

If you’ve lost money or information or your computer has been taken over by a phishing or malware attack report it to Action Fraud.

See also:
Identity theft and fraud

Additional free support:
How to remove a computer virus?
Microsoft Safety Scanner - clean and repair an infected PC
Microsoft free antivirus software