Over the past few weeks, we have seen a very large increase in the amount of computers coming into Cape Cod Computer, Inc. for repair with malware installed on them. Malware is a newer term coined in 1990 from the combination of the words "malicious" and "software". The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines malware as "software designed to interfere with a computer's normal functioning".
Malware has become extremely popular, with the number of malware attacks in 2008 almost doubling the number from 2007, according to a report by F-Secure. Malware is designed with the intention of causing harm to your computer, and is generally installed on your computer without your explicit knowledge or consent.
How does Malware get on my Computer?
Sources of where malware originates from may include email, peer to peer web sites, installing software which appears to be legitimate, and also just visiting a web site which has been designed to place malware on your computer.
With email, malware can be contained within an attached file or accessed by a hyperlink within the email body. With peer to peer web sites (like Kazaa and Napster) malware can be contained within the files you are sharing, which are typically music and media files. With web sites, unfortunately, there are some sites that exist by design to try and get you to download what appears to be legitimate software yet which contains malware.
We recently captured a screenshot illustrating an example pop-up message on a computer which appears to be a legitimate "Windows Internet Explorer" message trying to get you to download what is, in fact, malware. Here's the screenshot:
There are a few things about this screenshot which are troubling. First, the web site triggering the pop-up message is a Google News web site. This is not to say that Google is the originating source of the malware, however, because this web site prompted the pop-up message it could potentially make the user have more trust in the message. Second, the message window appears to be a legitimate Microsoft message, as it is labeled "Windows Internet Explorer". Again, this could potentially make the user have more trust in the message. Third, the message used in the pop-up window appeals to people's fear and also offers a "free" solution. In this case, if the user clicks the "OK" button on the pop-up window they have just installed malware on their system without knowing it.
Did you also notice that the screenshot clearly illustrates that this computer has Norton antivirus installed and running at the time this pop-up message occurred? Malware has become so advanced that very few antivirus programs are able to even detect the threat.
How do I know if my Computer has Malware?
Symptoms of computers with malware installed on them may include overall slowness in performance, pop-ups (including what appear to be valid warning messages), home page hijacking, and crashing. Home page hijacking is when your web browser home page is suddenly changed (without your knowledge) to be a different page than what you set it to.
What can I do to prevent my computer from getting Malware?
Be aware, alert and cautious of all actions you take on your computer while surfing the internet and while checking your email. Never open emails, click on links contained within, or download attachments from recipients you do not recognize or trust. Never download software unless you are sure you are downloading it from a reliable source, and are sure of what you are downloading. Think twice about using any peer to peer web sites, as you have no way of knowing which files may contain malware. Always have an active and current antivirus program running on your machine.
What should I do if my computer has Malware?
If you think you have malware installed on your machine, you should bring it to a computer repair technician to have it removed. Most free programs available out there are not going to completely remove the malware from your machine.
If you have a PC with malware on it, Cape Cod Computer is the place to bring it for repair. The average malware repair takes around 2 hours once the computer is on our work bench. We do not schedule malware repair appointments; rather we work on a first come, first served basis. We're located at 721 Main Street in Harwich Center, and our office hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30am - 5:00pm.
malware. 1990. In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
Retrieved September, 18, 2008, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/malware
"F-Secure IT Security Threat Summary for the First Half of 2008: More malware than ever before, Targeted attacks, New ways to infect PCs, and Jailbreaking".2008. In F-Secure.
Retrieved September, 18, 2008, from http://www.f-secure.com/2008/1/index.html