Virus and Malware Removal Services
As computers, and technology in general, have risen in popularity and become more ingrained into our lives, then so has the prevalence of malicious software risen equally. Technically a virus is malware since the term malware encompasses all types of malicious software.
Malicious software can range in severity greatly. While the severest of threats, like trojan software, has not risen as dramatically, the breadth of malware in general has. All of these different types though remind us why backing up our computer regularly (one backup copy locally and one offsite) still rings true today.
PUPs, Adware, and Spyware
The most prevalent and common type of malware these days is what is called "potentially unwanted programs" (PUP). PUP's encompass the adware and spyware sections of malware as well. These usually get installed when you go to install a program that you actually want and during the install process it asks if you would also like to install other software.
Almost all software does this nowadays, but the difference is in how it goes about asking you whether you would like to install the extra programs. The more trustworthy sources will usually make it clear that they are asking you to install separate software, while also making it easy to turn the option off. Also these types will be bundling legitimate, useful software and not the adware/spyware that can usually be found with the less trustworthy ones.
The less savory sources will try and mask the extra install to make it look like part of the normal installation process. This is usually done by asking you whether you would like to do an "Express Installation" or a "Custom Installation", and only by choosing a custom installation will you ever see the options for installing secondary programs. Even then they make it hard to find out how to decline the option, either through clever wording or hard to find checkboxes.
While is it is a bit dramatic to call this category malware since it is not necessarily malicious in nature, they can be harmful to your computer's performance and privacy. This is because most programs today, and especially those being installed in this manner, like to set themselves up by default to always be running, start running as soon as your computer boots up, and in some cases even spying on your computer habits for advertising purposes.
Search Engine Hijackers
Another very common type of malware these days and also not terribly malicious just like the PUP's mentioned above, are search engine hijackers. Search engines are big business in todays internet age, and if you need proof then look no further than one of the worlds richest companies - Google. So naturally it makes sense that so much malware has risen up around the idea of changing someones default search engine to one of their choosing.
Not only will these change your default search engine to watever they choose, but they will also make it extremely difficult to undo that change. Some of the nastier ones have even been known to reinstall themselves the next time your computer boots up (after you have removed it).
The danger with these hijackers is mostly a privacy issue. All search engines make their money through advertising which of course is tied to your searching tendencies. I personally don't have a problem with this, but I certainly don't want some untrusted source handling that data. Not to mention the fact that these hijacker search engines are going to monitor your activities more thoroughly, and will not respect your decision to browse anonymously if you turn that option on in your browser.
Like the PUP's mentioned above, these hijackers like to get installed by being bundled with other software that you do want to install. Because a search engine is a browser option though, it can also just as easily be installed (or the browser option changed) through malicious websites or even through malicious browser add ons.
Something that is malicious in nature, and has actually grown in popularity is ransomware. This is software that will basically take your computer hostage. It will prevent you from doing anything on your computer, and then display a message stating that you will need to pay a hefty sum in order to get control back of your computer.
Most of these can be uninstalled if you know how, but some will actually go so far as to encrypt your entire hard drive so that nothing but the encryption key can get your computer (and the data that it holds) back. If the latter happens then the only option that you are really left with is to reinstall Windows or reset to factory condition.
Again, make sure you back up your computer regularly. Ransomware is either installed through a malicious program or by visiting a malicious website.
The last subsection of malware would be your trojan type software. These are a bit nastier, both in what they do and how hard it is to get rid of them. The purpose for any given trojan can vary greatly but most are used for garnering information from the user. This usually means someone is trying to steal your online banking credentials, or even total identity theft.
Some trojans can be removed from a system, but a lot of them will embed theirself so deep into the operating system that it becomes impossible to get rid of unless you do a Windows reinstall or factory reset. There are even some that can write themselves to the heavily protected code that boots your computer up before handing control over to the operating system. In these rare cases, there is nothing you can do except buy a new computer.
Exploits in Software
Exploits are weaknesses in software that malicious users take advantage of in order to do things on your computer that are not permitted (remotely taking control of your computer for instance). Most people are probably aware that operating systems, such as Windows, are found to have expploits from time to time but are not aware that normal software suffers from the same problem.
This is why it is extremely important to not only update your operating system, but also your software. Those updates are not there just to add new features and fix bugs, they also fix security flaws. The most exploited software is usually your PDF reader (normally Adobe), flash player, anti virus software, or java. So don't ignore those updates, especially from your operating system but also from your software.
The only thing to be aware of regarding updating though, is that malicious users can try and exploit this as well. This is most commonly seen when visiting a website and it notifies you that your flash player needs to be updated. Except that what that button actually does is install either junk software or malicious software onto your computer. Only ever update from the software in questions website itself. If a website says your flash player needs to be updated, then go directly to Adobes website and have it check. Always.
The Human Factor
All of these different methods though, with all of their diversity and complexity are implemented the same way - the human factor. Whether it is being tricked into clicking a malicious link, spam email that contains malicious content (usually through attachments to the email) or tricked into downloading a malicious program, they have all proven effective time and again because of human error.
Anti virus software can only protect you so much and should actually be your last line of defense. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to use smart computing habits - do not click links from untrusted sources, do not download software from untrusted sources, and of course browse the web responsibly.
If you received an email from someone you have never heard of or from some website or company that you do not remember signing up with to recieve emails then proceed with caution. Even mousing over an element (usually an image) can trigger malicious code.
Always check that email address especially because malicious emails love to masquerade as legitimate websites. They do this by saying "Amazon" or "Wal-Mart" in the title, or even by mimicking the legitimate websites' web address. Basically they will add an extra letter or two to something in the web address to closely resemble the legitimate site (think adding an "a" to amazon.com, an extra "o" to google.com, or something similar). There are even websites set up using this same behavior. So be smart and aware when using your computer and back up, back up, back up that data!
As always you can email me with any questions that you may have about my services here - firstname.lastname@example.org.