Alien Vault

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Malicious software—aka malware—is on the rise, with 34.2 percent of computer users victimized by a web attack in 2015, according to Kaspersky Security.

How malware works

Malware is sneaky. Unlike computer viruses, which flat-out stop your computer from working, malware allows your computer to keep running while it quietly hijacks some of its functionality to steal your financial data, track your activity or even transmit malware to others.

While more than 1 million new threats are released each day, malware falls into a few broad categories:

  • Spyware: Tracks your activity on the internet and targets you with excessive, unwelcome ads. Spyware can also make your computer so slow it’s practically useless.

  • Trojan horse: This is malware disguised as legit software. Downloading it can compromise your security.

  • Phishing: A link or website that looks like it’s from a legitimate bank or shopping website fools you into divulging your financial information—then steals your identity, drains your bank account or makes unauthorized credit card purchases.

  • Ransomware: Holds essential data hostage, then demands payment to unlock it.

Threatening business

Malware is dangerous for businesses, too—especially those that save their customers’ financial information, like banking, health care and retail. One data breach can compromise millions of customers’ credit cards. There are also hefty costs to the company through damage to its reputation, lost productivity, and lost revenue. In fact, the average cost of a data breach has increased by 23 percent over the last two years to $3.79 million, according to WhiteHat Security.

The constant threat from malware has spawned a massive cybersecurity industry, which is projected to reach $81.4 billion in 2016. Programming experts are hard at work every day to outsmart the latest malware. But as with any epidemic, there are things you can do to protect your own computer and prevent malware from spreading:

1. Invest in good security software

The cybersecurity industry can’t help you if you don’t buy its software. Bitdefender, Kaspersky, McAfee, Webroot and Avast Pro all receive high rankings from the experts at PC Magazine.

2. Keep your software up-to-date—especially your web browser

Since malware is transmitted through the internet, it’s essential that your web browser have the newest security fixes.

3. Beware of attachments

Don’t open email attachments from people you don’t know, because they could contain you-know-what. Same goes for embedded links.

4. Lock down your network

If you have Wi-Fi at home, secure it with a password. And never use an unsecured network, like the one at your favorite café, to make online purchases.

5. Don’t click on that click-bait

Is there a surprise pop-up window offering to scan your computer for malware? Don’t click it. It might contain the exact thing it’s warning you about. Since you’ve purchased security software, use that instead.