What is spyware and malware and how do I prevent it?

Spyware and malware (malicious software) are nasty programs that someone sneaks onto your computer.  Malware is like a virus, but more directly criminal in intent. Some common examples include Trojan viruses, worms, adware, and ransomware. What they do ranges from really annoying, like feeding you a steady stream of advertisements, to very dangerous, like stealing your account numbers, user names and/or passwords as you type them in, something called keylogging.  Malware can redirect your browser to a phishing site when you try to go to your bank site, or even let someone remotely hijack your computer.  Criminals create networks of hijacked PCs—botnets—to send spam or shop with stolen credit cards for example.

How do I prevent it?

To prevent spyware or malware, use one or two anti-spyware programs in addition to your anti-virus software, and keep them up to date.

In addition, install and use a firewall. A software firewall is built into Microsoft Windows and all anti-virus software companies also make them, as well as specialty firewall vendors.

Do not attach your PC directly to the Internet.  Use a hardware firewall or at least a network switch or router between your PC and the cable or DSL modem.  This prevents hackers from finding your PC on the Internet and attacking it.  Most current DSL and cable modems have built-in firewalls, but be sure to look for that capability.

If you can, use a personal digital security device outside of your PC for accessing your high value accounts.  (See, What is two-factor authentication?)

For more information about how you can strengthen your cyber security, see the following posts: