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As useful as it is, software is also the biggest cause of problems to the average computer user. There are literally hundreds of small programs hiding in computers everywhere that serve no purpose other than to record what you are doing, control your computer experience, or use your computer to launch attacks on other computer users. This software is often refered to as MALicious softWARE, or malware for short.
The eight most common signs you may have malware:
1. Popup windows
2. Frequent computer crashes
3. Strange hard drive/modem behavior
4. Unusually slow computer and/or Internet connection
5. Unauthorised credit card charges, identity theft, or phone charges to 1-900 numbers
6. Warnings you have spyware, with an option to buy a program that will remove it.
7. A strange toolbar appearing at the top of your Internet browser.
8. Your homepage has changed to a search page, and you cannot remove this as your homepage
Listed below are the common types of this nuisance software:
Everybody who owns a computer is aware of the "computer virus". The point of this malware is purely to cause havoc on any machine it infects. Common damage caused by a virus include deleting files, overwriting critical data or simply replicating itself so many times it chokes the resources of the system it has infected. Very easily passed on to others via email or sharing of files using a network or discs.
A slight variation on viruses. The difference between viruses and worms is that viruses hide inside the files of real computer programs (for instance, the macros in Word or the VBScript in many other Microsoft applications), while worms do not infect a file or program, but rather stand on their own. While they don't sound particularly nasty, worms shot to fame when they were named "Melissa" and "Love Bug". They are commonly used now by second rate hackers to mass attack web sites, often called a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) because it chokes the targetted website with bogus traffic, slowing it down to the point where legitimate users experience continual errors.
Not as cute or cuddly as Bugs, but fairly harmless because the damage caused by a wabbit is targetted purely at the computer it is hosted in. It's sole purpose is to replicate itself until the host machine has no disc space left to use, choking it to a system failure.
The nastiest kind of malware, at least from a social standpoint. Trojans rarely destroy computers or even files, because they have grander plans, like harvesting your credit card details, banking information, site passwords and logins and sometime just your computers resources to launch DDoS attacks similar to the worms above.
Harmless, yet annoying, spyware is software that spies on you, often tracking your internet activities in order to serve you advertising.
Backdoors are much the same as leaving your doors unlocked while you go on holidays. These unlocked doors provide a network connection for hackers or other malware to enter, then set up for viruses and spam to be sent out through.
Exploits attack specific security vulnerabilities. This is why Microsoft is always announcing "critical" updates for its operating systems, and as soon as they plug one hole, the hackers find another. This is one of the reasons it is so critical to have a legitimate copy of your Windows software, because at least then you can have these update automatically installed for you.
Rootkits are installed by crackers (bad hackers) on other people's computers. The rootkit is designed to camouflage itself in a system's core processes so as to go undetected. It is the hardest of all malware to detect and therefore to remove, often the only course to take is to completely wipe your hard drive and reinstall everything fresh.
Typically, the malware kind of keyloggers are out to log sensitive information such as passwords and financial details. Disturbingly, they can also be installed as hardware, which takes a skilled criminal or nasty friend to do so undetected.
The most expensive of the malware family, dialers are often used to disconnect your computer from your ISP and dial an international premium rate phone number. They can also be used to dial a hackers computer, so they may transmit the information from a keylogger for example.
Not such a big deal to the owner of the infected machine. These nasty little files do however corrupt your surfing experience by taking the affiliate tracking codes in the web address (URL) you clicked on, stripping them out and replacing them with the codes stored in the file. Again, this does not have that great an effect on the user of the infected computer, but the web is commerce driven and it can have an effect on the advertisers trying to make a humble living.
Adware displays ads on your computer. Techincally it is not malware, since it is normally bundled with freeware, and installed voluntarily with the freeware. Never seen it mentioned? It normally is on line 14000 of the licensing agreement we all skip past when installing software.
Nuisance value software that does exactly that, takes the homepage you had set and hijacks it to another page, often full of exploits and affiliate links to porn or casino sites. The nasty thing about this software is it often comes bundled with trojans, viruses and dialers.
What do I do if I suspect I have a problem with bad software?
The first sign you may have of being infected by any of the above malware is your computer may seem slow, your internet connection my also appear to be slow, or have significant lag times. While this is not a positive indicator of malware, it is often the sign it is present, since it shares your computers resources and your internet connection to carry out its business.
If you suspect you may be infected by any of the above malware, it is essential you do not pass personal information, such as credit cards, banking details or website login information over the internet.
Contact a business, such as fix-it-pc.com and have your computer checked for signs of malware.