Viruses and Malware and Trojans, Oh, My!

With all the fuss recently about security breaches, hackers, viruses, and the like, it’s not unusual to have lots of questions about these matters.

Q. How did I get hacked?

A. You probably didn’t. In other words, it’s most likely nothing personal, unless you work for a three-letter Government agency, or are otherwise prominent in some way. It’s possible the password database of your email provider or other online entity was hacked, and your password was compromised that way. You may have responded to a Phishing” email (An email that purports to come from your bank, Facebook, etc., but is actually from a bad guy) with a link that took you to something that looked like the right site, but wasn’t. Then, if you entered your password, or any other personal information, you just gave it to the bad guys. You may have clicked on a poisoned link in a search engine or Facebook that installed malware on your system. You may have downloaded a Trojan (See below). A good antivirus program, plus an antispyware program or two, is essential. Strong passwords are essential, too. Click here for more on Internet security.

Q. I’ve been hacked!! What do I do now?

A. First: Change all your passwords. Second: Run a full security scan on your machine(s), using first your antivirus, then your antispyware programs. Third: look in your list of installed programs, and remove any you aren’t using or don’t need. (Caution: Don’t remove anything that has the PC manufacturer’s name or the name of a part of your computer, such as touchpad, network, etc.) Finally: Analyze your habits and think about what you might have done to get into this situation. It’s not necessarily your fault, but it should make you think.

Q. What is a Hacker, exactly?

A. The Good Guys (Also called the White Hats) prefer the term Cracker to refer to the Bad Guys (Black Hats). A Cracker is someone who, for either fun or dishonest gain, breaks into computer systems that he has no right to be in, and exploits the weaknesses therein. The Good Guys define a hacker as someone who takes things apart in an attempt to understand or improve them, or someone who makes things, be it hardware or software.

Q. What is malware?

A. Short for MALicious softWARE. Any kind of program written for an evil purpose, such as stealing data, scaring people, extortion, blackmail, and the like.

Q. What is a Virus?

A. It’s a catch-all term nowadays. The official definition is a self-replicating program, in other words, a program that spreads just like a biological virus.

Q. What are Scareware, Extortionware, Ransomware, and other similar terms?

A. Scareware is Malware that tries to frighten you into spending money, as in “You have 16,943 Viruses!” Extortionware tries to tell you (And sometimes it’s true!) that your files have been or will be encrypted or deleted, unless you (You guessed it) pay money. Ransomware is similar, in that it restricts or denies access to your computer (Often with a Department of Justice or FBI logo). There are many variations on this theme, but you get the idea.

Q. What is Spyware?

A. Spyware is software designed to spy on you. It always has a way to talk back to it’s creator. It can steal most anything you have on your computer. An example of spyware is a Keylogger, a program that can record every keystroke on a computer, thus potentially compromising all your usernames, passwords, and everything else.

Q. What is Adware?

Adware is software which has, as either it’s primary or secondary purpose, getting in your face with advertising. If you find yourself suddenly bombarded with (More than usual) pop-up ads while on the internet, or your home or search pages have changed, or you have a new toolbar, you probably have adware installed. Read more here.

Q. What is a Trojan?

Like the original Trojan Horse, a Trojan program is something that is not what it appears to be, and you let it in unknowingly and willingly. It may masquerade as a game, screensaver, or other cool free program, but contain malicious code that works in the background to compromise your system.

Q. I got a virus, and my Antivirus didn’t protect me!

A. Just as drugs will not always treat a disease successfully, Antivirus software will not always protect you, and for much the same reasons. Malware is a constantly changing landscape, and Antivirus software is only good at fighting some of it. That’s why you need some antispyware programs, too. It’s also important to use your head, and don’t mindlessly click on things when you don’t know what they are. Read more here.

Q. How do I find free Antivirus? I don’t want to pay money for software.

A. First, how not to do it: Don’t just Google for it! The Bad Guys know how people use search engines, and if you search for “Free Antivirus,” chances are you’ll get a virus instead. My favorite site for good free software is Ninite. You’ll be able to choose from several free Antivirus programs. Install only one at any time. My current favorite is AVG. You can also try Avast, Avira, or Microsoft Security Essentials (Just called Essentials on Ninite.) While you’re there, install Malwarebytes and Super. These are antispyware programs that will play nice with the free Antivirus programs.

Q. I DO want to pay for Antivirus, because I believe you get what you pay for. What do you recommend?

A. Any of the big names in the store will do a fine job, but I recommend AVG there, too. The others work fine, but they get in your face too much for my taste.

Now that you’re sufficiently scared… If you think of any more questions, please contact me, and Beware of Greeks Geeks bearing gifts!