Minimizing the Effects of Malware on Your Computer

Malware, a term applied to a host of software types that infect personal computers by copying and transmitting themselves to other users, by monitoring and logging user keystrokes to gather personal data, or by covertly hijacking computer processors for other purposes, is an under-recognized threat to personal security.

Hidden keystroke loggers or other malware on personal computers definitely pose a threat to the security of their information.

Strong computer security measures include a combination of firewall, anti-virus software, anti-spy software, and anti-malware software.

While many one-stop solutions exist, a combination of strategies is most effective, according to IT experts.

In 2011 it was reported one Eastern European group had hijacked at least four million computers in over 100 countries, including at least half a million in the U.S., making off with $14 million in "illegitimate income" before being caught. The malware allegedly used in the massive and sophisticated scheme targeted websites for major institutions like iTunes, Netflix and the IRS -- forcing users who tried to get to those sites to different websites entirely. The hackers rerouted internet traffic, using the infected computers to reap profits from internet advertisement deals.

If indications point to your computer being infected with malware, take immediate steps, such as alerting credit companies and banks in order to protect personal information, and pursuing corrective IT services to eradicate the malware from your computer.

Telltale signs that a computer may be infected with malware include:

The computer works more slowly, frequently malfunctions, or displays repeated error messages.
  • The computer won’t shut down or restart as normal.
  • The computer displays a lot of pop-up ads, or pop-up ads appear when not surfing the web.
  • The computer displays web pages or programs not launched by the user, or sends emails that the user didn’t write.

    If you suspect malware has infected your computer, STOP online shopping, banking, or other activities that involve user names, passwords, or other sensitive information. The malware could be collecting and sending your personal information to identity thieves.

    Next, ALERT your credit companies and banks in order to protect your personal information. Finally, CONFIRM that your security software is active and up to date. Every home or laptop computer should have anti-virus and anti-spyware software, a firewall and one or more antimalware programs. You can buy each item as a stand-alone, or they can be packaged into a security suite. Most importantly, you must keep these programs current by downloading security updates frequently.

    Once your computer is thoroughly clean, remain alert in order to avoid new malware downloads to your machine. Some scammers actually distribute their malware disguised as anti-spyware! So, don’t fall for software ads that appear in pop-up messages or emails, especially those that claim to have scanned your computer and detected malware. That unfair tactic has already attracted the attention of the Federal Trade Commission and various law enforcement agencies, and is under investigation.

    To reduce the chances of downloading malware again:

    Don’t click on a link in an email or open an attachment unless you know who sent it and what it is. Links in email can send you to sites that will automatically download malware to your machine. Opening attachments — even those that appear to come from a friend or coworker— also can install malware on your computer.
  • Download and install software only from websites you know and trust. Downloading free games, file-sharing programs, and custom toolbars may sound appealing, but free software can come with malware.
  • Talk to your family about safe computing. Make sure everyone understands that online activity can put a computer at risk and out of service. This includes clicking on pop-ups, downloading free games or programs, or posting personal information.
  • Routinely monitor your computer for unusual behavior. If you suspect your machine has been exposed to malware, take action right away.
  • Report problems with malware to your Internet Service Provider so that it can try to prevent similar problems and alert other subscribers.

    For more information: is a useful consumer website with more tips on securing your computers, protecting personal information, and guarding against Internet fraud.