The Internet is replete with dangers for the unwary user and the unprotected computer. Some experts say as many as 100 new viruses are created daily, infecting computers around the world. While many of those viruses are essentially harmless, merely causing a popup message that says "Merry Christmas" or temporarily moving things around on the computer's desktop, a fair number of them are truly dangerous, destroying millions of dollars' worth of data every year.
Viruses are only one type of program that falls under the category of "Malware." Malware are programs the user does not want, but that are installed on their computer by some inadvertent action by the computer user. Many of them are distributed attached to emails, free programs, and other downloads from the Internet. Once in the computer, they do what they were intended to do, and never is it beneficial to the computer or the computer's owner.
The 12 Types of Malware
To understand how antivirus and security software works, we must first understand what it is protecting us against. There are twelve basic categories of malware today, with some having various sub-categories as well. In many cases, a particular piece of software can be more than one type of malware at the same time. For example, a trojan may conceal spyware, a type of adware intended to send advertising to the computer for products similar to those the user buys.
This is the most commonly known type of malware. A virus enters a computer and replicates itself throughout the hard drive. Viruses are hard to detect, as they usually hide inside of an existing program file. When that program is executed, the virus replicates itself in other programs. Depending on the virus, it can fill the hard drive, replace existing files, or prevent the computer from working properly.
Worms are a variation on viruses. The major difference is that they do not infect existing programs, but are standalone. Worms can spread themselves automatically to other computers on a network, whereas viruses require some action on the part of the user to spread themselves.
The rarest of all types of malware, wabbits function much like viruses and worms. However, they limit themselves to infecting one computer and do not spread to others.
Commonly considered the most dangerous type of malware, trojans are programs that hide themselves in plain sight, disguised to look like something else. They do not normally affect a computer's operation, but are used as a form of spyware, stealing information from your computer. Many other types of malware can be trojans, hiding the malware part in a seemingly useful program.
Spyware is just what it sounds like: a program to spy on the computer's user. Most of the time, this is done to find out Internet purchasing activities, with the intent of offering products to the user. As such, it is often a form of adware. However, spyware can also be a way of stealing vital information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, and addresses. When used in this way, it is part of identity theft activities.
Backdoors can be trojans or worms; however, their purpose is unique. They open a "back door" into your system's operating system to allow hackers and other malware an entrance to the computer. One example would be a back door that allows a spam program to enter the computer and send out spam to the user's entire email list.
Exploits are programs that focus on taking advantage of a specific program's vulnerabilities. Many of the updates Microsoft announces for their Windows operating system are designed to close these vulnerabilities to exploits.
This is the type of malware most likely to have a human touch, being installed by a person, rather than via automated distribution. The rootkit camouflages itself in a computer's core processes, making it the hardest type of malware to find.
A keylogger program is another type of malware that does exactly what it sounds like it does: keep track of keystrokes on a computer. This is almost always done exclusively to harvest personal and financial information, such as passwords, account numbers, and PINs.
Dialers use the computer's modem to dial phone numbers. They may dial the number of the hacker who created the dialer or connect to an overseas premium phone number that charges X dollars per minute.
This form of malware injects a specific URL into the browser when the user tries to go to other URLs. Most of the time, this type of malware is created to not work consistently, making it harder to detect. One lucrative way this is done is to have the computer browser jump to an affiliate site when a site is accessed, thereby generating payment on a pay-per-click advertisement.
Adware is the most common, most lucrative, and least dangerous of all malware. It causes ads to pop up on the computer. Companies that create adware argue that it is not legally malware because it is only installed at the user's request. However, the notification that it will be installed is usually buried in the fine print, so that most people are not aware that they have agreed to have adware installed on their computer.
How Antivirus and Security Software Deal with Viruses and Other Malware
There are two basic ways in which virus protection software works, and both of them involve comparing the data on a computer to a database of known malware, searching to find matching strings of code. One type works by scanning everything on the computer at the user's request. This can be done automatically on a pre-determined schedule. The other type examines every program and web page that is opened, comparing these programs to a database.
The best protection comes from having both types of virus software working on the computer. It is also useful to have more than one type of malware detection software on the computer, specifically, to have virus detection software, a firewall, and malware detection software (since not all malware is viruses). These programs protect the computer in a number of ways:
1: Catching malware sent as email attachments
Security software scans incoming email and attachments to warn the user of any detected malware. Depending on the configuration of the virus-scanning program, it may block the email and attachment automatically or ask the user if it should be blocked.
2: Catching malware attached to downloads from the Internet
Virus and malware scanning software scans all downloads from the Internet before they are downloaded to determine if any malware is present. If malware is present, the download is quarantined for user review and removal.
3: Scanning the computer's hard drive to catch viruses and other malware residing on the hard drive
Most virus scanning software will automatically scan the computer's entire hard drive on a predetermined schedule in order to verify that all programs and data are virus- and malware-free. Depending on the particular software package, this schedule may occur on a weekly basis.
For this scan to work effectively, the database of known viruses and malware must be updated. Many programs include this updating as part of their regularly scheduled scan.
4: Scanning programs as they are opening to find embedded viruses
Since viruses need the user to open the program so that they can propagate, the virus detection software checks the program as it is opening in order to find virus activity. If any is found, the program is shut down and quarantined, pending user action. Some virus scanning software is capable of repairing the software in these cases, while others require the removal and reinstallation of the program.
5: Informing the user of websites with a history of viruses or other malware
Major virus scanning software companies maintain a database not only of malware but also of websites that have had viruses found or reported on them. The software will flag these sites in the search engine listing, protecting the user from opening the site.
6: Scanning outgoing information to find messages sent by spyware
Once spyware, keyloggers, and some other types of malware are installed on a computer, they attempt to contact their creator to convey information. Software firewalls can detect this and block the contact attempt, while informing the user.
7: Automatically scanning removable media when it is attached to the computer
Just as these programs scan computer programs when they are opened and downloads before they are permitted on the computer, they also automatically scan flash drives and other removable media whenever they are connected to the computer.
8: Blocking hackers from accessing the computer
Software firewalls can detect hackers by comparing outgoing requests for information with incoming information. By definition, hackers access computers via incoming information, without any outgoing request. Therefore, they become obvious to these firewalls and can be blocked.
What to Have on Your Computer
A good antivirus program is a must for anyone who is connected to the Internet. However, depending on the package chosen, it may not provide sufficient protection from attack. Virus scanning software is not designed or intended to catch all types of malware, just viruses. To be able to catch trojans, spyware, and adware, a malware detection program is needed as well.
Some of the major virus protection programs are actually program suites, offering software firewalls and malware-scanning capability in addition to virus protection. However, not all virus protection programs provide these extra features. In these cases, a malware scanner and a software firewall should be installed in addition to the virus-scanning software.
All types of security software use system resources and can slow down the computer's operation. Before purchasing an antivirus or anti-malware package, it is a good idea to read reviews from other users, specifically looking for issues with the software slowing the computer system down. Some programs do this more than others do.
Buying Security Software on eBay
Various types of security software can be found on eBay, including virus protection, anti - spyware, and firewalls. To find it, start from the "Electronics" section of eBay's main "Categories" menu. From Electronics, select Computers, Tablets & Networking. Software does not show up as a category on the main computers page, so click the button in the menu that says "All Categories"; this will cause a pop-up menu to appear with all of the computer categories. On this menu, find Software. Below it, find the subcategory Antivirus & Security.
Once in the "Antivirus & Security" page, filters allow you to select the specific type of security software desired. Results can be filtered by platform (Windows, Linux, Mac, etc.), brand (AVG, McAfee, Trend Micro, and others), type (anti-spyware, antivirus, parental control, firewall software, or not specified), and other factors. Depending on your needs, you can choose to show only products from sellers that provide free shipping or expedited shipping, and/or sellers that accept returns.
The great number of viruses and other malware created daily have made the Internet a dangerous place to surf. To protect a computer, it is necessary to install antivirus and other malware protection software. Software that provides constant vigilance is a necessary expenditure to protect a computer from danger.
While some malware programs are benign, only showing ads or an occasional pop-up, others are extremely dangerous, with the potential to ruin a computer. In extreme cases, malware can cause the entire hard drive to need to be reformatted and everything reinstalled.
As a part of any computer's protection from the effect of viruses and other potential malware problems, the hard drive must be backed up periodically. At a minimum, all data needs to be backed up. That way, if the hard drive needs to be wiped and everything reinstalled, the data is not lost.
Since these software packages use system resources to function, they will slow down a computer's operation to some extent. However, not all of them slow down operations to the same extent. Before purchasing, it is a good idea to read reviews on the various software packages that are being considered, with an eye toward how much they affect system operations.