Malicious software (Family Safety)
Malicious Software is the term that is used to describe applications that are written with the express purpose of either exposing or doing harm to your data. There are many different types of malicious software in existence today ranging in severity from mild to severe. These can be used to steal identities, steal money, or simply destroy or corrupt our data.
What is malicious software?
As the use of technology increases, so does the risk of exposing our critical data. We use the computer to keep track of our finances and to store critical pieces of information such as social security numbers, passwords, login information for our financial institutions, and so forth. In the physical world, we protect this data by locking it in a drawer, hiding it in a can on the shelf, or maybe storing it under our beds. We try to secure it by keeping it out of view–a methodology known as “security by obscurity.” The virtual equivalent might be to simply “hide” this data in a file that is named something innocuous, like “recipes” or “Movies I want to see.”
Unfortunately, technology has advanced enough that this type of “security by obscurity” is completely useless. We have technology today that can search the content of documents without regard for the filename or where it is hidden on the computer. Many of these applications have been written for law enforcement so they can find evidence that criminals have tried to hide (and those criminals will use much more sophisticated means of hiding their evidence than a typical computer user would). The problem is that criminals have access to this same software and can find anything they want on a computer that they can access.
Tips & suggestions
Keeping computers running smoothly is much like maintaining a car. In order to maintain peak performance, both cars and computers require regular maintenance. Run regular anti-virus and anti-spyware scans on your computer just as you would change the oil in your car.
One of the easiest ways to keep your computer safe from malicious software is to download software from trusted sources only. Some programs may be available from multiple sources, but be sure to always download it from the original publisher if possible, and if it's not, make sure that the source is reliable.
Some programs come with an installer that may install additional unwanted programs that at best clutter your computer and at worst are malicious. To avoid this problem, make sure that you read what the installer program says and choose the options that won't install these extra programs.
Ensure that the software on your computer or mobile device is regularly updated. This protects the computer from certain kinds of attacks that are used to install malicious software on computers.
In order to be fully protected, an Internet-connected computer should have, at the very least, a firewall, an anti-virus application, and an anti-spyware application. These should be configured to update themselves from their publisher on a regular basis, and every so often, a full scan should be performed. Performing these scans will keep your computer running smoothly and will reduce the risk of losing critical data.