How Malware Finds Its Way onto Your Computer

There are lots of programs to protect your computer from malware, but first line of protection is knowing how malware propagates itself so you can avoid it in the first place. Malware will enter your computer in one of three ways:

As a download from a web page: If you have the latest version of your web browser, you’re alerted to any download from a web page to your computer. In other words, you must invite the program into your realm. If the program is malware, in it comes.

As an email attachment: Malware arriving as an email attachment is the same bad stuff that comes from a web page. The difference is primarily in social engineering: The malware is most likely disguised as a message from a friend or has another tempting aspect that entices you to open it.

As a file on infected removable media: Originally the most popular method for malware distribution, inserting a strange disc or another type of media into your PC’s storage system is still a way to give your computer a virus. The disc offers something enticing — a free game or software. The worst scenario is when you’re required to start your PC with the disc. Bad, bad, bad.

Antivirus software can help identify malware as it arrives on your PC, but don’t let it be your crutch. Just be vigilant. Remember: Even antivirus programs can be fooled. In fact, all the major viral infections of the past dozen or so years managed to slip by the antivirus programs that were then widely in use.

  • The key to getting malware to work is social engineering. In the case of a web page link, the web page may direct you to ignore warnings from Windows or to disable your antivirus software to continue.

  • If the website looks fishy, or it’s offering something that cannot possibly be true, it’s probably not a good idea to download any of its files or even click a link.

  • If a file downloads automatically and you didn’t request it, do not open the file. Delete it at once.

  • If a pornography website downloads a “video viewer,” it’s a virus.

  • If the email says to disable your antivirus program before opening the attachment, don’t.

  • It’s common to get malware from chat rooms. Some (bogus) user comes into the chat room and coughs up a web page link to malware, often with an enticing but wrong description of what you find when you click the link. Don’t click the link.

  • Sometimes, programs can be sent directly from an online chat room or from instant messaging software. Whatever you do, however you’re tempted, do not click the link or open the file.

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