What is Malware?
Malware is an umbrella term for various types of malicious software. This term encompasses:
- Viruses: programs which attach themselves to other (often legitimate) programs or files, but which cannot affect your computer or spread to others unless you open or run the infected program or file.
- Worms: similar to viruses except that they can further infect your computer or travel to others without any action on your part.
- Trojans: programs which disguise themselves as legitimate, useful software but actually do damage once installed.
- Adware: legitimate programs that incorporate advertising in order to allow the developer to distribute it for "free".
- Spyware: gathers user information through the user's browsing habits, internet connection and sometimes keystrokes without their knowledge, usually for advertising purposes. Adware which incorporates this approach to its advertising content is typically re-categorized as Spyware.
Common symptoms of a malware infection include slow computer performance; difficulty registering or accessing the network; the inability to run software updates or anti-virus software such as McAfee; and unexplained pop-up warnings, errors, or ads.
Student-owned computers suspected of having any kind of malware infection can be dropped off free of charge at the ITS helpdesk from 8 am–5 pm Monday–Friday.
Tips to Help Avoid Infections
While it is true that there are far fewer infections for Mac computers, Macs are not invulnerable and CAN be infected. In addition, infected files may be transferred via Mac as, for example, email attachments. One of the better known instances occurred in May 2012 when may computers were infected by the Flashback Trojan. Don't assume you don't need to be protected or be careful just because you're on a Mac!
It's nearly impossible to guarantee a way to avoid infections, but here are some good things to keep in mind:
Have active and up-to-date anti-virus software: McAfee and Norton are major names, as is Microsoft Security Essentials. There are other providers that do a good job as well, various online resources will run annual comparisons and performance reviews. The most important thing is to ensure that the software is updating itself regularly, to keep itself aware of new viruses (which arise weekly).
Pause and consider links and downloads before clicking and installing: Even trusted sources sometimes get hacked and can provide infected content. Take a moment and think about how likely it is that the action you're about to take will be safe—were you expecting that attachment? Do you really need that software to do what you're doing?
Be suspicious of very scary warning messages: They're almost always malware themselves, especially if you have to click or install something to further scan your computer.
Run anti-virus and anti-malware scans regularly: In addition to letting protective software run in the background, it's a good idea to run a full scan of your computer on a regular basis.
Ask questions: If you're not sure about something, and don't know how to proceed, stop by the ITS HelpDesk or give us a call at 507-222-5999, and we will help you out.
If your computer is infected and you're not able to remove the malware, you can:
- For a Carleton-owned or student-owned computer, bring it to the ITS helpdesk (x5999).
- For all other devices, contact a local computer repair service.
If all else fails, users may have to wipe the hard drive and do a clean install of the operating system.