Online Security Part 1 – Malware for the Rest of Us

People are afraid of online threats for good reasons. We use computers and the internet for everything from banking to social communication to storing cherished family photos and videos. So many devices are portable, which can result in additional security issues. This series of posts will present a variety of simple and practical techniques to stay safe from the worst online threats such as malware (aka viruses) from infected websites and “phishing” emails, online account hacking, and the dangers involved when using public WiFi hotspots. It will also include an introduction to the terminology and symptoms of malware, hopefully making it a bit easier to figure out if a computer or online account has been compromised. It will conclude with suggestions for creating strong and memorable passwords. Each post will be relatively short and a deeper discussion will follow in future posts.

The problem for most of us is that the official definitions are unnecessarily complex. For example, the definition for malware is “Parasitic software fragments that attach themselves to some existing executable content. The fragment may be machine code that infects some existing application, utility, or system program, or even the code used to boot a computer system.” This definition means practically nothing to non-technical people. Actually, it’s possible to ignore most of the techno jargon, but knowing a few basic terms is necessary because even a Google search requires knowing a few right words.

More simply put, malware is the general term for computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, adware, scareware, rootkits, and other malicious programs. The details of each of these types of malware will be provided in a future post, but for now it helps to learn the obvious symptoms of malware so it can be removed as soon as possible. Ransomware is the easiest to identify since the point of this malware is to tell the user they have been infected. The cyber criminal scrambles the files and will not unscramble them until the ransom is paid (if ever). Some messages even make it sound like the user has broken federal laws (you can’t even believe criminals these days!).

(continued in Part 2)