There’s a lot of talk of viruses these days, but we are here to discuss the digital kind. Malware is a threat to your online security and can put your private information in the wrong hands so you need to know how to avoid it.

Just like you wear a mask and stay at home as much as possible while COVID-19 is a threat, developing healthy online practices will help you avoid all types of malware. Below, we’ll discuss the best methods of keeping your online world secure and your personal information locked up safely.

Understanding what malware is

If you find yourself asking, “what is malware?” you’re not alone. Malware stands for “malicious software.” The word describes any type of harmful software that can infect your computer and there are many kinds. From trojans to worms to spyware, any of these can slow down or take over your operating system and impact usual functioning.

Most malware comes from online browsing and email messages. The messages are concealed inside of a link or on a webpage, which may seem legitimate or from someone familiar. These tactics are meant to trick you into trusting the content and clicking on the infected link.

If malware makes its way onto your devices, you can encounter a variety of effects — from slow loading times to crashing computers to having your identity stolen. It’s better to avoid malware in the first place because it can be tricky to remove (or even know you have it).

Types of malware

    • Ransomware — The name gives it away. Ransomware encrypts all your files so a hacker can ask for a ransom to return your information. This malware typically comes from phishing schemes and some don’t need you to do anything to infect your computer or other devices.
    • Trojan — Think Trojan horse, where there’s something dangerous hidden inside a seemingly benign item. This type of software disguises itself as a harmless video, file or download but has a malicious malware embedded inside.
    • Spyware — As the name suggests, this malware allows a hacker to spy on you and collect your data. Spyware runs in the background and gathers information like your account numbers or Social Security number, often without you being aware.
    • Worm — A worm is a self-sufficient type of malware. Think of it like this: worms can re-grow themselves and this malware spreads from computer to computer without needing outside assistance. It can create copies of itself, which makes it one of the more dangerous types of malware.
    • Virus — A computer virus is like a cold or the flu in the digital world — it requires human contact to spread. A person needs to take action to transfer a virus to their computer or to someone else’s, like clicking a link or downloading a file.

How to protect yourself from malware

Protecting yourself from malware starts with gaining knowledge and forming good habits in your digital life. By building healthy cybersecurity routines, you’ll be less likely to click on a malicious link or fall for a phishing scam. Remaining aware of potential threats will help you secure your computer and other devices against bugs or faults that malware can utilize and exploit.

1. Educate yourself

The first and most crucial step toward cybersecurity is gaining a knowledge base. You need to understand what a potentially threatening email, website or download looks like. Scammers are becoming more and more sophisticated so being able to spot danger ahead of time is your best defense. Whenever you have an odd feeling about something, don’t click it. Instead, do some research to see if other users have experienced a similar scam. Even if it’s an email from a close friend but something about it seems off, don’t click on or download anything. Do your due diligence first.

2. Use anti-malware tools

You can download software that will help you protect yourself from potential threats. Security software performs frequent scans of all of your computer files, as well as warns you when you click a link or a file that looks potentially corrupt. Using this type of tool can help safeguard your data, especially if you’re worried you may accidentally fall for a scheme or might be unaware that malware is running in the background.

3. Update your operating system

Whether you’re working on a PC or a Mac, make sure to update to the latest operating system. When a new operating system is released, it contains the most advanced safety features and bug fixes so it’s inherently more protected. You can set your devices to update automatically when new versions come out so you don’t miss any releases. Plus, if your operating system is several years old, you run the risk of it no longer being supported and no more upgrades being released.

4. Update your browser

Your web browser is easy to forget about but keeping each of them up-to-date is a vital part of your cybersecurity plan. For every browser from Google Chrome to Internet Explorer, make sure the browsers are running the most recent version. New browser versions have better security features and bug fixes you’ll need to keep your computer safe from malware. Typically, your browser will notify you when a new version is available so make sure you allow the update to happen.

Conclusion

Using safe and smart practices online can help protect you from malware infecting your computer. Malware can cause minor irritations like slow loading times or significant issues like losing your data or having your identity stolen.

Knowing how to spot a potential threat, even when it looks legitimate, is the best defense. Keeping everything up-to-date helps as well. When you form good cybersecurity habits, you lessen the likelihood of dealing with problems from malware down the road.