Malware is short for "malicious software." It includes a wide range of online threats such as viruses, worms, spyware and Trojan horses. Fraudsters use many methods to try and get malware onto your computer including e-mail, instant messages, fake Web sites and by offering a desirable download such as free songs or virus scans. Once on your computer, they use the malware to steal personal information, send spam, and commit fraud.
Most malware tries to stay unnoticed, either by actively hiding or by simply not making its presence known to the user. Some types of malware will cause a few noticeable differences in your computer. A computer may be infected with malware if it:
- Slows down or displays repeated error messages
- Won't shut down or restart correctly
- Behaves strangely, such as spontaneously rebooting
- Allows a lot of pop-up ads, or even shows them when you're not on the Internet
- Displays Web pages or programs you didn't request
- Sends e-mails you didn't write
- Allows you to log into online banking but then tells you the system is down. While downtime can be experienced in online banking it is rare and usually communicated in advance.
You can both protect yourself from and avoid malware from getting onto your computer. Many attacks can be avoided with the help of security software and some basic online safety tips.
- Install anti-virus and anti-spyware security software from a well-known company and keep it up-to-date. Set it to automatically install updates.
- Install anti-malware software that is capable of detecting, blocking, and removing malware threats on your computer.
- Have e-mail attachments and files scanned by your security software prior to opening them or transferring them to your computer.
- Regularly install security patches on your operating system.
- Keep your Internet browser up to date.
- Don't click on a link in an e-mail or open an attachment unless you know who sent it and what it is.
- Delete all unwanted and unsolicited messages without opening them.
- Download and install software only from Web sites you know and trust. While it is appealing to get free software, they can contain malware.
- Beware of "anti-virus or spyware" scams. Offers to scan your computer for malware for free or pop-ups telling you that it was found are often fraudulent.
- If you receive strange messages, files, or Web site links while instant messaging, even if it appears to be from a friend, immediately end your IM session.
- Only transfer or share files from a well-known and trusted sources.
- Be wary of clickable ads and pop-ups.
- To safely close a pop-up, click on the "X" in the upper right corner. Do not click on a link in the ad that may appear to close it, such as "No thanks" or "Not interested." These links can also contain malware.
What to do if you suspect malware ...
If you suspect that your computer has been compromised and malware is on your computer, react immediately.
- Stop shopping, banking and other online activities that involve login IDs, passwords, or other sensitive personal information.
- Confirm that your security software is active and current. Your computer should have anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a firewall.
- Once your security software is up to date, scan your computer for viruses and spyware. Delete everything the software identifies as a problem.
- If you suspect your computer is still infected, you may want to run a second anti-virus or anti-spyware program or call professional help.
- Monitor your accounts for any suspicious transactions and consider requesting your credit report.
- After you are certain that the malware is no longer on your computer, change your online passwords.
Report online fraud to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov. If you suspect your accounts have been compromised, contact your bank immediately.