Got Malware? Here’s How To Check And What To Do

How to avoid malware danger sites and what to do if you’re infected: Internet Scambusters #944

Can you avoid malware? Or are you already infected? And, if so, what can you do to remove it?

In this week’s second part of our malware special, we’ll answer those questions and point you in the direction of other sources of help.

With 130,000 new website malware traps expected this year, learn now about how to protect yourself.

Let’s get started…

Got Malware? Here’s How To Check and What To Do

Every week, an estimated 2,500 websites become newly compromised either with malware or links that lead to them. Every week. That means 130,000 new threats in a year. Every year.

You’d be an unusually lucky person never to land on one of these danger sites. Worse, today’s malware is better than ever at doing its job of stealing or freezing data, or of finding its way onto other network-connected devices.

Last week, we told you about the different types of malware and how they get onto your device. (If you missed it, see Malware: How it Sneaks In and What it Does to Your PC or Mobile). So, now, let’s give you the keys you need to spot it, lock it out, or remove it if it breaks through your security.

How to Avoid a Malware Threat

Here are the top five things you must do if you want to minimize the chances of a malware infection:

1. Install security software and keep it up to date. This is a no-brainer. It’s your most powerful defense. The best security programs and apps not only monitor your email, they also warn you if you’re visiting a known dangerous website and they let you inspect individual files before opening them. Some offer deep scanning, which identifies malware like root kits, which we discussed last week.

2. In addition, keep all other software up to date. New threats emerge every day. Good programs and app developers monitor these and modify their software to beat the crooks. Unless you have good reasons not to, you should allow these programs to update automatically.

Also, make sure your hardware/firmware is up to date. Three quarters of all hardware-driven malware is found on compromised routers. Check with manufacturers to learn how to update.

3. Avoid risky websites. These include so-called “adult” websites, foreign sites, especially in eastern Europe and China, and those offering free stuff that would normally cost a lot. Always check your browser address bar to make sure you’re in the right place. If you mistyped or clicked a bad link, the page you’re on may look like the real thing, so re-read the website address carefully.

4. Think before you click. If you never click an attachment or a link in an email or website, it’s highly likely that you’ll never get infected. Of course, that’s impractical for most of us, but caution should be your watchword. Email is the most common starting point for malware infection. Look out for attachments with vague one-word titles like “letter,” “invoice,” “warning.” And never believe or take for granted that a message from a name you recognize actually came from them.

5. Limit or ban access by others to your device. As soon as you hand it, or your keyboard, to someone else, you’ve lost control. Just say “no.”

See also our note below about keeping track of emerging threats.

Do I Already Have Malware on My Device?

Maybe it’s too late and you already have malware on your device. How can you tell? Here are some useful ways of finding out.

* Run your security software regularly. Most anti-virus programs and apps check for malware automatically but, by default, they usually run a “quick scan,” which only checks the most likely places to find malware.

Crooks know this and try to hide their malicious code elsewhere. So, either change the default setting to schedule a “full scan” or run this manually. Include occasional deep scans if they’re available.

Some of the big security software firms offer free online scans. But they’re a less-than-satisfactory substitute for device-based security.

* A dramatic slowdown in the device’s operating speed. All computers slow down with age, but if things take abnormally longer than they used to, this could be a sign that malware is at work behind the scenes — perhaps either searching for data or using the machine as part of a botnet (as described last week).

* If your computer’s hard drive is running all the time or the amount of free space on the hard drive is less than it should be, you may be infected. If you don’t how to check your hard drive, search online for instructions or install a program that will check disk speed and capacity for you (search for “hard drive activity tracker”).

If your computer fans are running faster and more often than normal, this is a good indicator of increased processing activity.

* Certain programs start misbehaving or your entire system keeps crashing. Perhaps your browser home page has suddenly changed or new page tabs or extensions appear.

* You start getting pop-ups (other than from your security software) warning of problems with your device and inviting you to click a link, visit a particular website, or phone a 1-800 number. Or you start seeing lots of pop-up ads on your screen.

* Your security software either won’t run or can’t update.

* Keep yourself informed of latest threats so you know what to look for. Sites like Scambusters and many more regularly run alerts of new dangers. All the big Internet security firms produce regularly updated lists online. For example: Norton, McAfee, and Kaspersky. You can also subscribe for regular email bulletins from many of these sites.

How to Remove Malware

This is a topic suitable for an entire book — because it depends on the type of malware and, often, the particular program or app that’s hosting the infection.

In each case, there’s likely a specific set of instructions for removing the software. You can usually find these online. In some cases, you may need to call in a tech professional to undo the damage.

However, here are three main routes for dealing with a malware infection yourself:

1. Identification and removal by your security software. This might be done automatically (though the program should still tell you what’s happening). Or you might discover the infection from a manual scan and receive removal options from the software.

If you use Windows, Microsoft often regularly produces and updates a “Malicious Software Removal Tool.” For details on how to use this, visit Remove Specific Prevalent Malware with Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool.

Note that, occasionally, security programs can make mistakes, flagging an item that isn’t malware. Usually, you’ll get the option to “quarantine” the item until you know for sure.

2. Try simply restarting your device. Disconnect it from the Internet. Then, if you know how to restart in safe made, this might give you an opportunity to remove and/or reinstall the program or app you suspect is hosting the malware. Otherwise, you must do this manually.

3. Reset your device. This is the most radical, catch-all response — effectively restoring to factory settings or reinstalling the operating system.

If you’ve been wise enough to back up your system and data before the infection, you can restore from that. Or you can use “system restore” to switch your device back to an earlier date.

If this doesn’t work, the only way to be sure you remove the malware is to do a total reset, not a partial one.

Malware is a continually evolving threat. In this issue, we’ve been able to cover only the bare bones of dealing with malware. Defeating it can be a complicated, time-consuming process. Save yourself the anguish by running a no-clicks policy backed by the best security software you can afford.

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!