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Strategies for Digital Self Defense


Strategies for Digital Self Defense

"Malware" is a term used for harmful software that messes up or controls how an electronic device works. Malware threatens any connected device, from personal computers to smartphones, tablets, servers, and beyond. As technology has improved over the past twenty years, so has the sneaky and commonness of bad software. Keep reading to learn more about how malware works and how you can stay safe.

How does malware work?

Malware usually gets into a machine by tricking people into clicking and installing something from the internet that they shouldn't. When this happens, the bad code starts doing things the user didn't want, like:

  • Copying itself in different places on the device
  • Installing apps that spy on keystrokes or take over the device's power, often without the user knowing, and slowing everything down
  • Blocking access to files or even the whole device, sometimes making the user pay money to get it back
  • Bombarding the screen with ads
  • Breaking important parts of the system, making the device useless

Many things can make the bad code start, but the most common is when someone clicks on a link or a pop-up. These might say something exciting like "Get your prize now!" or "Your account is in danger; log in now!" A pop-up might even appear right after clicking, saying something like, "Your system is infected! Click here to fix it." Clicking on these often downloads bad stuff, even if you try to close the program using the X in the corner.

Malware can also pretend to be helpful, like a program that claims to change PDFs or find discounts. But once it's on your device, it starts doing things like:

  • Watching what you do
  • Showing annoying pop-ups
  • Changing what you see when you search
  • Adding strange things to your screen or sending you to weird websites

Types of malware

Malware comes in different forms, depending on what the person who made it wants. Here are a few:

  • Computer viruses: These copy themselves and spread to other files or computers.
  • Trojan horses pretend to be excellent programs but hurt your computer.
  • Computer worms: These spread through networks, not just files.
  • Spyware: This sneaks onto your computer to watch what you do and steal your info.
  • Logic bombs: These are hidden in programs and can mess up your system when they're triggered.

Signs of malware

Not all malware is as evident as ransomware. Sometimes, it runs quietly in the background. Here are some signs you might have malware:

  • Ads that pop up right after a page loads
  • Ads popping up when you're not even using the internet
  • Your web address keeps changing and sending you to weird pages
  • Your friends get strange messages from you that you didn't send
  • Your device gets slow
  • You can't open the Control Panel on Windows

Protecting your devices

Since malware is pretty common, there's a lot you can do to stay safe:

  • Use anti-malware software, especially on Windows PCs.
  • Have a good firewall and strong passwords.
  • Don't download apps or programs from sketchy websites.
  • Don't click on strange ads or pop-ups.
  • Be careful with emails asking for personal info, even if they seem real.