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5 Malware Misconceptions Debunked

Malware, for those that don't know, is any type of software that is capable of harming your computer. Malware can threaten your business or personal files and prevent you from doing important tasks on your computer. Malware can take multiple forms such as Viruses, Trojan Horses, Scareware and more. Today we will look at 5 misconceptions that some people might have about malware and give you a few tips to protect your computer(s) from all that bad stuff that's out there on the Internet.

Note: Some of these misconceptions were derived from questions I had from clients when removing malware from their computers and others are from research I have done and podcasts I have listened to.

1. Malware creeps onto your PC without you knowing it

Many of my clients have asked how their computers became infected with malware in the first place. It doesn't just appear on your computer. In order for anything to happen to your computer, a program or file needs to be run by the user. In most cases, the user gets tricked into downloading and running an infected file thinking it's something legit. It could be something as simple as an ad on the webpage saying "You May Have A Virus" or an email looking like it's from your bank or some other organization with a bad attachment. Either way, it's best to not download or run anything on your computer unless you can be sure it comes from a good source.

2. Malware is only found on malicious websites

Many wonder if they can prevent malware by avoiding sites that contain questionable content. This is true but it's not the only source of malware. Sometimes a legitimate website might be hacked by a malicious organization and because it is a trusted source, a large amount of PCs can become infected because of it. That's not to say you need to avoid the entire Internet however, most major websites are highly secure making the likelihood of an infection by hackers low. The best way to stay safe is to just watch out when something looks strange about the website you frequent such as a drastic change to the site, bad spellings, requiring you to download a program just to view a blog post, etc. When in doubt, just use a modern browser like Chrome or Firefox that has website malware detection built in. If it tells you that malware is detected, go back and try again later. Typically, your favorite website is just as eager to get rid of the malware as you are.

3. If I'm using a Mac or Linux PC, I'm immune to Malware

While it's true that you may not get infected by malware targeted at Windows users, that doesn't mean that there aren't viruses out there for Mac and Linux PCs. There aren't quite as many out there but they do exist. So you must still take the same precautions that any Windows user would. The list of ways a Mac or Linux box can get infected would probably make it's own blog post at some point. Common attack vectors include browser extensions (as Chrome and Firefox run on Windows, Mac, and Linux), Adobe Flash, Reader, and Java (same reason) just to name a few. As the old geek adage goes (paraphrased for you the awesome reader), If you can run a program, you can get a virus.

4. All Malware is fixable as if nothing ever happened

I have worked with a lot of clients removing malware from their computers. In most cases, I am able to revert their computers back to normal without any data loss or problems whatsoever. However, sometimes there are viruses so bad (I have had a couple of clients like this) that they can infect system files and break the software on the computer enough to require a re-install of your Operating System or OS (usually Windows). I can usually save the data and transfer it to a fresh install of Windows or Linux. Unfortunately there are also viruses such as Cryptolocker (more on this in a future blog post), a virus that holds your data hostage and if you don't pay them about $300 in 3 days it will be deleted. So not only should you be careful when you are online but you also want to keep backup of your data before you get a virus that can destroy it.

5. If I install two or more Antivirus programs, I'll have double the protection

I used to fall for this misconception myself in my early days in the IT industry. As it turns out, installing more than one Antivirus program on any computer will cause the two to conflict with each other causing some viruses to go unnoticed or create false positives. It can also cause the computer to run more slowly if they are both running at the same time in the background. If it's good, one antivirus program (free or paid) is enough. On Windows, the one exception is the MalwareBytes Free Anti-Malware tool which by itself can remove all kinds of infections on your computer and doesn't run in the background.