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How To Avoid The Dreaded Computer Virus

We have all heard of them but what exactly is a computer virus - what does it do and how can you avoid getting them.

Virus - Trojan - Spyware - Malware - words that every computer user dreads. They are becoming more prolific, stealing data, causing computer damage and costing a small fortune to remove.

Fact - over 300,000 new virus/malware attack PC's every day.

New viruses and malware are being developed daily so no matter how good your anti-virus solution it doesn't know what is being developed tomorrow. Viruses are big business for their developers and they are here to stay so you need to be protected against them!

When we say "Computer Virus" what we are actualy talking about is computer malware of which a virus is just one type.

Malware: Short for malicious software, is a catch-all phrase used to define any program that runs on a computer without the user's knowledge and which performs predetermined functions that cause harm.

Types of Malware

Adware

Adware (short for advertising-supported software) is a type of malware that automatically delivers advertisements. Common examples of adware include pop-up ads on websites and advertisements that are displayed by software. Often software and applications offer “free” versions that come bundled with adware.

Think about it, who would go to the time and effort to design a very complex computer programme and give it away for "free"? These programmes have to be paid for in someway and it is often by adware.

Most adware is sponsored or authored by advertisers and serves as a revenue generating tool.

While some adware is solely designed to deliver advertisements, it is not uncommon for adware to come bundled with spyware (see below) that is capable of tracking user activity and stealing information. Due to the added capabilities of spyware, adware/spyware bundles are significantly more dangerous than adware on its own.

Bot

Bots are software programs created to automatically perform specific operations. While some bots are created for relatively harmless purposes (video gaming, internet auctions, online contests, etc), it is becoming increasingly common to see bots being used maliciously. Bots can be used in botnets (collections of computers to be controlled by third parties) for DDoS attacks, as spambots that render advertisements on websites, as web spiders that scrape server data, and for distributing malware disguised as popular search items on download sites. Websites can guard against bots with CAPTCHA tests that verify users as human.

Ransomware

Ransomware is a form of malware that essentially holds a computer system captive while demanding a ransom. The malware restricts user access to the computer either by encrypting files on the hard drive or locking down the system and displaying messages that are intended to force the user to pay the malware creator to remove the restrictions and regain access to their computer. Ransomware typically spreads like a normal computer worm (see below) ending up on a computer via a downloaded file or through some other vulnerability in a network service.

Rootkit

A rootkit is a type of malicious software designed to remotely access or control a computer without being detected by users or security programs. Once a rootkit has been installed it is possible for the malicious party behind the rootkit to remotely execute files, access/steal information, modify system configurations, alter software (especially any security software that could detect the rootkit), install concealed malware, or control the computer as part of a botnet.

Rootkit prevention, detection, and removal can be difficult due to their stealthy operation. Because a rootkit continually hides its presence, typical security products are not effective in detecting and removing rootkits. As a result, rootkit detection relies on manual methods such as monitoring computer behavior for irregular activity, signature scanning, and storage dump analysis. Organizations and users can protect themselves from rootkits by regularly patching vulnerabilities in software, applications, and operating systems, updating virus definitions, avoiding suspicious downloads, and performing static analysis scans.

Spyware

Spyware is a type of malware that functions by spying on user activity without their knowledge. These spying capabilities can include activity monitoring, collecting keystrokes, data harvesting (account information, logins, financial data), and more. Spyware often has additional capabilities as well, ranging from modifying security settings of software or browsers to interfering with network connections. Spyware spreads by exploiting software vulnerabilities, bundling itself with legitimate software, or in Trojans.

Trojan Horse

A Trojan horse, commonly known as a “Trojan,” is a type of malware that disguises itself as a normal file or program to trick users into downloading and installing malware. A Trojan can give a malicious party remote access to an infected computer. Once an attacker has access to an infected computer, it is possible for the attacker to steal data (logins, financial data, even electronic money), install more malware, modify files, monitor user activity (screen watching, keylogging, etc), use the computer in botnets, and use your identity to cover illegal internet activity by the attacker.

Virus

A virus is a form of malware that is capable of copying itself and spreading to other computers. Viruses often spread to other computers by attaching themselves to various programs and executing code when a user launches one of those infected programs. Viruses can also spread through script files, documents, and cross-site scripting vulnerabilities in web apps. Viruses can be used to steal information, harm host computers and networks, create botnets, steal money, render advertisements, and more.

Worm

Computer worms are among the most common types of malware. They spread over computer networks by exploiting operating system vulnerabilities. Worms typically cause harm to their host networks by consuming bandwidth and overloading web servers. Computer worms can also contain “payloads” that damage host computers. Payloads are pieces of code written to perform actions on affected computers beyond simply spreading the worm. Payloads are commonly designed to steal data, delete files, or create botnets.

Computer worms can be classified as a type of computer virus, but there are several characteristics that distinguish computer worms from regular viruses. A major difference is that computer worms have the ability to self-replicate and spread independently while viruses rely on human activity to spread (running a program, opening a file, etc). Worms often spread by sending mass emails with infected attachments to users’ contacts.

Malware Symptoms

While these types of malware differ greatly in how they spread and infect computers, they all can produce similar symptoms. Computers that are infected with malware can exhibit any of the following symptoms:

  • Increased CPU usage
  • Slow computer or web browser speeds
  • Problems connecting to networks
  • Freezing or crashing
  • Modified or deleted files
  • Appearance of strange files, programs, or desktop icons
  • Changing your browser home page
  • Programs running, turning off, or reconfiguring themselves (malware will often reconfigure or turn off antivirus and firewall programs)
  • Strange computer behavior
  • Emails/messages being sent automatically and without user’s knowledge (a friend receives a strange email from you that you did not send)

Avoiding Malware

Preventing malware is far better than trying to cure the damage it causes. That is, of course, easier said than done. However, there are a number of actions you should take to guard against the malware threat:

  • Keep Windows up-to-date by setting up automatic updates in the control panel. Microsoft issues critical updates at least monthly. Many of those are designed to eliminate or avoid specific threats.
  • Install a fully automatic cloud backup. Our LivedriveCloud service will protect all of your data and is free for 1 computer and up to 2GB of data.
  • Install an anti-virus software package and keep it updated at all times. We recommend AVG Internet Security. In our opinion, at just £18.00* for one computer, one year license it is not worth the risk of entrusting your computer to the "free" anti-virus products available. To protect yourself against the latest types of viruses such as Cryptolocker you'll need our Total Internet Security service. Please click here for more details.
  • Don't download "Free" programmes without first reading the end user license agreement (EULA). When you download these programs the license will state that you agree to the software also installing programs that would be classed as malware.
  • Don't click on any pop-up or advertisement for free anti-spyware software or free PC tune up software. These are almost always fake, even if they carry the name and logo of a well-known publisher. Ironically, this is a very popular method used to distribute spyware and other malware.
  • Set your browser and operating system security level to at least the recommended settings. You may see a few more warning messages, but it's a small price to pay for security.
  • Install a firewall. The built in Windows firewall is not strong enough. AVG Internet Security includes its own firewall. 
  • Avoid questionable Web sites. If you visit a site that seems strange, there's a good chance you shouldn't be there.
  • If a virus alert appears on your screen as you visit a Web site, don't click on it, even to close it. Instead, type control-alt-delete to launch the Task Manager and use the "End Task" command to close the window. Next, use your own anti-virus software to run a complete scan of the system.
  • Never open an e-mail attachment if you're uncertain of its source.

If, despite all your efforts, you find your computer has malware on it, stop working immediately and disconnect the computer from the Internet to avoid passing any information to the bad guys.

Please do not try to "repair" your computer using "System Restore" this will only make the problem worse. Many viruses also stop your anti-virus software from working so, although it is a good idea to scan your computer for viruses, a message to say that none were found does not mean that your system is clean.

We can remove most malware from your computer although a badly infected system will require a  reformat of your hard drive and a reinstall of the operating system, drivers and software. While time-consuming, this solution also serves to clean up the system, eliminating unused applications and data. This is almost certain to make the machine run faster and increase the space available on your hard drive. Just be sure you have an up to date, clean backup of your data prior to taking the plunge.

Is Malware Illegal..? 

Well yes, sort of... There are laws against installing software on a computer without the user's consent and using spyware to gather personal information, such as passwords. The problem is that many users actually consent to spyware, malware being included when they download and install free utilities or games. When you click on the Next button to install software, stating you have read and understand the end user license agreement (EULA), you're allowing spyware to go to work on your computer.

If you do not have AVG Internet Security please call us on 0800 246 1469.

We can offer you a substantial 60% discount on the normal retail price available from AVG.

This works out at just £18.00*. In order to obtain this price please do not purchase your licence on-line with AVG but call us and we will install the licence for you. 
*We will make a small charge of £7.00 should you require AVG to be installed. Please see our charges page.

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