Basic Malware

I’m writing this article so that I can refer callers to it. It’s going to be very, very basic. I’ve been getting calls from people who have been referred by my clients, generally with serious malware issues on their computers. When I look at the machine I invariably find that there is a fairly simple issue that allowed the computer to become infected. (I’m skipping over the one machine that had no attempt at security at all!)

Here are the key points:

1. Make sure your antivirus/malware program is up to date. It should be set to update automatically, and it’s best to have that scheduled at a time when your computer will be turned on. In general, the program will update the next time the computer is running after the scheduled time, but sometimes people perceive that as a speed issue. In addition, if you’re using a program with a paid subscription, make sure the subscription is up to date.

2. Make sure you allow your program to run a periodic scan of your system. There is a reason for these scans: Viruses and other malware (and viruses are a smaller and smaller percentage of the problem these days) may slip through your “live” protection. Because a virus scan can slow a computer down, I’ve been finding that many people pause or abort scans. There’s nothing wrong with a short delay, but then let the scan go forward.

3. Be aware of the name and logo of your malware software. While these can be spoofed, I’ve found that many times people respond to messages that clearly aren’t from any program they installed on their computer. If you get a security warning that isn’t from the program that you installed, and isn’t one of the standard ones from Windows, stop working and run an immediate full scan. If you aren’t sure, run a full scan. When you run that full scan, start your security software from your Start menu.

4. If you’re computer is behaving oddly, such as opening random pop-ups, running very slowly, or your browser is going to web sites other than the one you requested, run a full system scan.

5. Have some kind of browser security, such as McAfee Site Advisor, or the built-in options that come with AVG or Microsoft Security Essentials. Quite a number of attacks access your computer through malicious web sites. Once you’ve installed one of these, watch the indicator and don’t go to doubtful web sites.

5. If any of these points are confusing, you may need to get someone who has the appropriate technical skills to do a cleanup, but if you follow the basic rules, you shouldn’t have to do that, at least not frequently.

6. As a final note, if you’re in trouble and want to try to rescue yourself, I most commonly use MalwareBytes as a “big broom” to sweep the junk out of a computer. It’s very effective. There are conditions that will either prevent it from running (without some effort that’s beyond the scope of this article) or may be beyond it’s ability to automatically clean up, but for the most part if works.

There are good free malware options available, such as AVG Free and Microsoft Security Essentials. I don’t generally use those free options for business customers, but for personal use, they are quite adequate. Just make sure you keep them up to date and let them do their job!

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