VIRUSES AND MALWARE:
HOW TO PROTECT AGAINST THEM
IS MY COMPUTER INFECTED WITH A VIRUS OR MALWARE?
You've most likely read or heard about the plethora of computer viruses that exist in cyberspace. You might have had friends or business associates tell you horror stories about how they got infected, what they lost as a result and what it took to fix the issue. Maybe it's your computer that has been infected. Worse yet, you've been infected but don't even realize it.
How can you tell you've been a victim? The more sophisticated the virus, the harder it can be to know. Here's a few of the red flags you should be looking out for in the war against computer viruses and the damage they can do - and these are all computer issues we're seeing very often in year 2014 and we don't expect them to go away in 2015.
EMAILS THAT YOU DIDN'T SEND
Ever had a friend or business associate contact you to ask why you sent them that "strange" email? One you know you did not send? You've been hijacked. Viruses are built to do one thing and that's to find any means of getting inside your system to exploit data or simply shut your system down. The means by which you've been hijacked can be one or more of many - email, IM, social networks, certain websites - they all provide potential portals to your hard drive and everything that's on it. That includes contact lists, banking and credit card info… even your identity!
If you suspect this has happened to you, first, change all your passwords. Second, run your anti-virus program and eliminate the infection. Third, if you cannot find the culprit it doesn't mean it's not there... get a professional computer tech to fix the problem.
Prior to pop-up blocking technology, pop-ups where the most common and effective means for a virus to get into your system. Those flashy little ads were designed to grab your attention with claims like "You're the lucky 100,000th visitor of the week! Click here to claim your winnings." Until word got out that these were scam ads that opened the door for infection once you clicked on them and followed the instructions to get what you've won, these were quite effective. You'll rarely see these in 2014, but they're still out there. Even though most folks know not to click, some still do and until those malicious little suckers stop getting clicks, they won't go away.
POP-UPS EVEN WITH YOUR POP-UP BLOCKER ON
Truth is, these are still common gateways to infection as many have "evolved" into smarter versions – pop-ups that still appear even with your blocker activated. Often, they try and mimic the look of virus protection software warnings. They often look use a logo, color scheme or name of real antivirus programs, and because of that, the likelihood of you clicking on something that says "Warning, your computer may be infected" goes up. Never, ever click on them. You'll just be adding more malware to your computer and upping the chances of a catastrophic loss of data, theft of personal identity and ultimately, loss of money!
You're just minding your own business playing a game, surfing the web or designing a new promotional piece for your business when WHAM.... a nasty official looking notice fills your screen telling you that your computer has been locked for illegal activity! Oh no!! What to do? Well, fortunately for you the sender of that lockdown message has a solution... simply pay the fine and you'll be all good again. Simple, right? Nope. Bad thing, very bad thing.
LOCKDOWNS BY "OFFICIAL" AGENCIES
Welcome to the world of Ransomware. You've been held hostage by a virus looking to squeeze some cash from your bank account. And, while most we encounter look awful official, even citing specific sections of the U.S. Criminal Code, some are just plain in your face extortion. "We've taken over your computer and/or files and they will not be released until you pay us." Don't do it, You may end up unable to regain control of your computer or files after paying the hefty ransom. These infections can be quite robust and may require a complete system recovery to restore your computer and your sense of security.