How and Why to Avoid Malware

"Mal" means "bad" in Spanish and other Latin languages. Likewise, malicious software, better known as malware, is any software used by cyber-crooks to access someone else's computer system—without the owner's knowledge or consent. Viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and spyware are all examples of this invasive software. As one of the most frequent vehicles for online identity theft, malware enables its programmers—typically with illegal intentions—to access private information such as identification numbers or debit and credit card information.

How Does Malware Work?

The most common way malware users gain access to a person's computer is by sending phishing emails aimed to trick the recipient into clicking a link or opening an attachment infected with the malicious software.

Once the malware gains entry into the computer or mobile device, it probes the data protection systems for an area of weakness. From there, the intrusive program uses a combination of aggressive tactics to disrupt system operations and gather sensitive information. Malware programs typically use data-capturing techniques such as key logging, which literally tracks the keys struck on a keyboard, tracking information including passwords, Social Security numbers, and PINs.

Malware scams are on the rise and the software has become increasingly difficult to detect. Fortunately, there are useful, proactive ways you can protect your information from malware.

How to Avoid Malware Intrusions

Staying alert is your best defense. Here are some simple ways to help keep your computer and mobile devices safe.

  • Know and recognize the signs of phishing emails. Do not open attachments or links from unknown sources.
  • Install protective firewall, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software on your computer and update regularly.
  • Protect your passwords and login information by avoiding use of the auto-save function on your browser and by locking your computer when you aren't using it. (If your browser asks you if it should remember your password, choose "never.")
  • Update your computer and mobile device programs with the latest, most secure versions. Many updates feature new security measures, and are less vulnerable.