Avoiding and Removing Malware

What is Spyware/Malware?

Spyware and malware are types of malicious computer software that install themselves without your knowledge or consent.

Some varieties capture personal and private data about you from your computer—in some cases, even trying to take control of it. Others exist only to show you a huge number of ads. Any information that passes through your computer could be vulnerable such as passwords, credit card numbers, or your social security number.

Spyware usually tries to keep itself hidden, making it difficult to get rid of. It's also alarmingly easy to download. Often, it will attach itself to some other piece of software (BestFreeBeachScreenSavers.exe) and install alongside it.

Common symptoms of a Spyware/Malware infection

  • A decrease in the computer’s overall speed and functionality
  • Programs running slowly, freezing, or crashing
  • Lots of annoying pop-up advertisements
  • Unwanted redirects of your web browser
  • Additional toolbars you did not purposefully install
  • Strange icons/programs on your desktop

But I have a Mac. I'm safe, right?

With any platform's rise in popularity, come more attacks. Spyware and malware for Mac are starting to appear; and, while they are not particularly difficult to remove, this may change. The next malware to affect Macs will likely be more advanced, dangerous, and problematic. For the most part, malware on Macs is more inconvenient than anything else.

 Great. I have spyware. How do I get rid of it?!

There are a number of excellent (and free!) pieces of software to do this, we recommend MalwareBytes.

How can I prevent this from happening again?

Now that you've got the spyware removed, the most important thing is to not get it again!

  • Be thoughtful and careful about downloading files from the Internet.
  • While tempting, pirating software is not only illegal, but it’s also one of the easiest and most effective ways of getting a terrible case of spyware.
  • As with most other situations, if it sounds too good to be true—it probably is. Don't be fooled!
  • Ignore pop-ups and close them immediately. If a nondescript window pops up and tells you your computer is infected with 481 viruses, and it can clean them for only $39.99....it's lying.
  • Many pop-ups also appear to be genuine Windows notifications. Read them carefully and you'll find clues as to their authenticity, like misspellings, or slightly incorrect language use. 
  • Install updates. Updates have a bad habit of interrupting us when we're busy, asking us to update—but they're important and will help protect your computer.
  • Avoid Internet Explorer. While it's much better than it used to be, it’s still far less secure than other available browsers. Firefox, Chrome, and Safari are safe and secure browsers with built-in, pop-up blockers, and most have extensive plugin architectures to customize the browser as you like.
  • Run your spyware scanner of choice regularly, just to be safe. And keep it updated.
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