Malware is malicious software that can infect your computer and affect its behavior. Malware includes viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware, adware, ransomware, and more. These are classified by the method they infect a system or by what they do afterward. For example, viruses infect when you open an infected file. Worms do not require any user action to spread – they spread automatically to unprotected computers. Malware can be a serious problem, but it is usually fairly easy to protect against these days.

There are just a couple things to do to stay safe from malware. The most critical step is keeping your operating system up to date. Go to Windows Updates or System Updates on Windows or Macs, and turn on automatic updating. The second thing is to be extra vigilant when opening emails. That’s really it! That will protect you 95% of the time from the really harmful stuff.

That said, there are two types of malware you should be familiar with.

The most frequent malware I see recently is adware. This is often an extension installed in an internet browser, with a name suggesting that it allows people to work with PDFs, for example. When installed, the extension hijacks the browser to serve up ad sites, and may install other extensions as well. This type of malware is usually just an annoyance, but could also cause serious problems. Fortunately, removing it is usually as simple as deleting the extension in the internet browser settings.

A more dangerous type of malware is known as ransomware. When ransomware infects a computer, it encrypts the user’s files. It then demands a payment for the key to decrypt them. Ransomware has been on the rise recently, and has made tens of millions of dollars from businesses, hospitals, and schools. Because it has been so lucrative, ransomware attacks are expected to increase. If you are infected with ransomware, you should contact a professional immediately.

As with most security, the first line of defense is you. Take care when opening email attachments or clicking suspicious links.

Steps to take:

  • Make sure your operating system and software is up-to-date.
  • Be careful opening files from an unknown source, including email, even if it LOOKS like it’s known
  • Keep your anti-virus software updated.
  • Make sure your system is backed up regularly.
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