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While the media doesn’t pay as much attention to malware as it did a decade ago when the threat was new, tens of millions of PCs remain infected worldwide. Some are damaged by their infection and become unstable, others allow criminals to steal private information, and still others force the target to join a botnet.

You’d think such threats would make people take malware more seriously 10 Steps To Take When You Discover Malware On Your Computer 10 Steps To Take When You Discover Malware On Your Computer We would like to think that the Internet is a safe place to spend our time (cough), but we all know there are risks around every corner. Email, social media, malicious websites that have worked... Read More , but many myths persist. Here are five common misconceptions that can lull you into a false sense of security.

A Virus Can’t Infect Your PC If You Don’t Download Anything

Most people think of a virus as a malignant executable that runs harmful code and, as such, come to the conclusion that malware is only a problem for people who download sketchy files. In fact, this perception is well over a decade out of date, and can leave those who hold it vulnerable to a wide variety of threats.

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The computer worm What Is The Difference Between A Worm, A Trojan & A Virus? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is The Difference Between A Worm, A Trojan & A Virus? [MakeUseOf Explains] Some people call any type of malicious software a "computer virus," but that isn't accurate. Viruses, worms, and trojans are different types of malicious software with different behaviors. In particular, they spread themselves in very... Read More , a self-replicating virus that spreads itself through vulnerabilities in its victim’s software or operating system, is a prime example of malware that can infect its victim without the user knowing. Worms sneak into target PCs by using a loophole or bug. In most cases the vulnerability can be found in software, but sometimes it can be found in firmware; some Linksys routers, for example, are vulnerable to a worm that can infect the router remotely.

Even if worms didn’t exist, there are other avenues of attack. Hackers sometimes attack legitimate sites What To Do If Your Website Or Blog Has Been Hacked What To Do If Your Website Or Blog Has Been Hacked Everyone wants to think that they won’t be hacked. Usually, they’re wrong. You don’t need to tempt fate by insulting Anonymous or documenting a particularly lulz-worthy obsession. Some hackers try to crack into websites at... Read More and sneak a virus onto them, opening up a wealth of targets who presume the site in trustworthy. A website may cause no harm for years then, without warning, become an avenue of attack.

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The lesson is simple; install an antivirus on your PC, even if you visit a small selection of sites that you trust.

My Computer Runs Fine, So An Antivirus Will Slow Me Down

Users who think that they can protect themselves without an antivirus also tend to believe they’re not infected because their PC seems to run fine. And why not? Hollywood has convinced many that a virus throws up laughing skulls or a picture of Calvin pissing on a PC; at the very least, the Task Manager Mysteries Of The Windows 7 Task Manager: Why You Don't Need an Alternative Mysteries Of The Windows 7 Task Manager: Why You Don't Need an Alternative This might seem contrary to what you read about throughout the Internet, but the Windows Task Manager is fine as it is – it doesn’t need a replacement. You could interpret that as a simple... Read More should show excessive processor usage. Right?

avirascan

Wrong. While it’s possible to detect some viruses without an antivirus, many others try to leave no trace. This is true with some botnet malware, which tries to obscure its access to the infected PC’s resources, and also true of keyloggers and Trojans that seek to obtain a user’s personal information.

Want proof? Read Ars Technica’s article on “ratting,” which exposed a voyeuristic subculture based on tools that make it possible to spy on people via webcam without the victim knowing. The “ratters” even discover and discuss ways to disable the light which most webcams activate when in use, thus disabling a security feature many users think impossible to defeat.

While it’s true that an antivirus will put some strain on your PC, it’s unlikely to be so much that you’ll notice; most use less than a hundred megabytes of memory while running in the background, and processor usage is generally low unless you’re running a full system scan. And, since you have the antivirus install, you can rest easy knowing there’s no malware trying to trick you into thinking your PC is fine.

All Antivirus Apps Are The Same

There are a lot of antivirus apps to choose from, and choosing between them can be confusing. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that some users throw up their hands and declare all of them to be more or less the same.

avtest

Nothing could be further from the truth. According to AV-Test, an independent organization that tests antivirus software, security suites that score poorly detect and protect against up to 20% fewer zero-day attacks and 15% fewer “known” threats. Put simply, choosing the wrong antivirus can leave you vulnerable even to common malware.

While paid security suites tend to perform better than those that are free, some no-cost options, like Avast and AVG, hold up well Free Anti-Virus Comparison: 5 Popular Choices Go Toe-To-Toe Free Anti-Virus Comparison: 5 Popular Choices Go Toe-To-Toe What is the best free antivirus? This is among the most common questions we receive at MakeUseOf. People want to be protected, but they don’t want to have to pay a yearly fee or use... Read More . The rankings can vary significantly from year to year, however, so you should read AV-Test’s latest results before deciding which suite to download and/or purchase.

I Don’t Run Windows, So I Don’t Need An Antivirus

Excluding mobile operating systems for tablets and smartphones, Windows still owns about 90% of the global computing market, so it’s no surprise it remains a prime target for malware. That doesn’t mean other operating systems are perfectly safe, however, as they too can prove easy pickings.

linux_antivirus_install_clam

Mac OS X, which takes up about 6% of the global market, has become the victim of numerous attacks over the last few years; one, discovered in 2012, infected 600,000 computers. While this is still limited in scope compared to even moderately successful Windows malware, it proves that Macs are not invulnerable, and users are often ill-prepared to handle an infection because they believe OS X to be safe.

Even Linux can be infected. Don’t just take our word for it; read the Linux Foundation article on malware, which points out that no computer is absolutely impervious to attack.

Malware Won’t Target Me, Because [Insert Reason Here]

Some users, for various reasons, decide they don’t have to worry about malware because…reasons. Those reasons range from “my computer is too slow” to “I don’t buy anything online.” I even once eavesdropped on a passer-by who declared, in reference to malware, “That doesn’t worry me, there’s nothing in my checking to steal!” Queue the laugh track.

webcam-hacks-peeper

Here’s the thing; malware is a program. Like all programs, it does what it’s programmed to do; nothing more or less. If malware is programmed to spread via an old Windows XP networking vulnerability and, once it infects a target, set up a keylogger, then that’s what it will do every time. A virus doesn’t care about your credit score.

Even if you rarely use your computer for “important” things, like purchasing items or paying bills, malware can cause problems. As mentioned previously, there are thousands of people who use relatively simple tools to spy on people infected with a Trojan via their webcam. A keylogger can also pick up information related to your email or social network accounts which, even if not used to target you specifically, could be sent to or sold to illegitimate organizations looking to send spam from compromised accounts.

In short, you don’t have the luxury of opting out from malware. And to make matters worse, it’s harder to rely on antivirus after malware is installed, because the malware might prevent the antivirus from working properly. Stay safe; get an antivirus now, rather than after you think you’re infected.

Conclusion

Malware a threat many people fail to take seriously until it’s too late. A user can go for months, maybe years without being infected; but when it takes root, it’s difficult to remove even when detected. That’s why it’s important to forget the myths and protect yourself with an antivirus immediately.

Image credit: Shutterstock, AVG Technologies

  1. John from Detroit
    March 20, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    I run some very good anti virus stuff here... I have one of the best firewalls,, I do admit to doing some downloading but choose trusted sites whenever possible.

    And I STILL GOT HIT.

    Thankfully I was able to wipe it out (But it cost me a Reset of the computer to do it, a week of putting things back together)

    I do have one computer that when I'm done with it may end up hacker proof.

    You see the Wi-Fi adapter is fried, and I wont bother plugging in the LAN cable.. So unless I stick a disc in the drive.. no infection path exists.

    For those who think you need internet access to become infected... First virus I ever caught on my computers came off a disc not off the net.

  2. James
    March 14, 2014 at 1:11 am

    So you have a brand new computer. How do you connect to the internet securely to get/install/update the security software and OS updates in the first place without being a target for infection during that period!

  3. StevenRichards
    March 9, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    What about the common myth I have installed Antivirus and now I'm safe from all malware?

    This couldn't be further from the truth. The malware 'authors' know that users will likely install antivirus and therefore will make their malware harder to detect. The bad guys are constantly looking for ways to infect systems and therefore users must take care in how they use the Internet. One commenter was wondering if game cracks create a false positive warning (ie tell the user that the crack is dangerous when it actually isn't) That shouldn't even be the question. The question is why are you using a game crack? Game cracks are used to circumvent protection measures in games, often pirated games. They could easily have malware as it can rarely be proven that a game crack is safe.

    The bottom-line is actually quite simple. Users must install appropriate antivirus and antispyware programs AND make sure they do not engage in risky behavior such as:

    Downloading pirated content, especially software and games.
    Using game cracks.
    Downloading 'free' software from untrustworthy sites. (Free Photoshop anyone?)
    Running ancient versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome (please update you web browser)
    Disabling your firewall because you think it will speed up you connection. (it doesn't)
    Visiting suspicious sites like porn sites, and downloading their 'videos' or 'free programs'. Except those videos are actually programs! (Malware)

  4. Haggisbreath
    March 8, 2014 at 12:18 am

    True story -- I got a new 256GB SSD a couple months ago, and loaded up Win7. I made sure the Windows firewall was o, though I'm behind a router firewll anyway, then I opened up IE to g get Firefox, Chrome and Windows updates.
    I had IE sitting on the MSN main page for a few minutes,then I noticed some extra "disk"/CPU activity beyond what would be warranted with really nothing at all running. I opened up the task manger, and saw a couple processes I had never seen before, especially on a just-installed OS, and one of those process names began with an underscore e.g. _cwerghh.exe. I held don the power button for 10 seconds or whatever for a hard shutdown, then proceeded to reinstall the OS from the start :-P

    I used my company laptop to go download my A.V., firefox and chrome and installed those first thing on my 2nd Win 7 iteration. Thing is, none of those are full versions, so you still have to connect to the Internet so they download thier packages.

  5. ProtectandAccess
    March 7, 2014 at 10:48 am

    After back to back attack in 2011 i badly realized the importance of antivirus. Those who use internet must have updated antivirus otherwise his or her computing will become a nightmare.

  6. ???
    March 6, 2014 at 2:40 am

    I really don't think I need an antivirus because I am running archlinux, have iptables set up to block any incoming connection except from my ssh port (which has a 2048 bit key, this is probably the weak point in my system), and only install packages from the official database (with the exception of the AUR, for that I check the pkgbuilds and the install script first.) I have chrome up to date (I am working on putting it in a chroot jail) and have KDE wallet. If you think differently, please say so (I also have clamav running as a daemon just in case).

    • JL
      March 6, 2014 at 3:20 am

      So, I would use AUR encrypted with otp+psk for end-to-end, implement the latency randomizer in iptables, then install the mothership of tracking software.. *whistles
      Arch does look nice though, I want to try it.

  7. rich
    March 5, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    Hey, Cotter! I have fully updated AV programs ( WinSE with massive backup from Win Patrol, mbam, Super Anitspyware, etc.), or Avast (at the moment) with the usual cautions such as everything updated, sandboxing in unfamiiar turf, and so on. And I still get warned about a load of stuff every time I do an AV scan. Why? Quite simply, just about every really useful utility (most of those from Nirsoft, UBCD4Win, product key retrievers, password revealers are typical examples) are by their nature hacker tools as well. You may need them to recover from your own dumb moves, but lots of black hats are trying to use them against you. And I agree that having them popped on every scan is a pain - especially if it's one of the AV progams that makes it hard to end the hysterics (DELETE! DELETE!) and/or find just where the ignore instruction is hidden.

    I am also increasingly finding the AV makers devious and untrustworthy. They send you an update in the same format as an upgrade - but click on the familiar button and bingo, you've just ordered the paid Pro edition = full of features you do not want to buy. Or there are the pre-checked boxes showing you've accepted foistware. There are nag screens, or suddenly "your trial has expired - pay" demands on what is offered as true freeware. And as for those that obscure the controls, or are programmed to pre-empt whatever you are doing on your screen to announce some imagined threat they hav e just discovered, or run a scan whenever they damn please whether it suits your work in progress or not, ditto updates -
    Cotter, I hear you loud and clear!

    Still won't keep me from layering on all the defences that will work together and behave themselves (mostly), but when naive users say they won't use AVs because they aren't worth the hassle - |I know where they are coming from because the abuse is there.

  8. James L
    March 5, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    > ...a voyeuristic subculture based on tools that make it possible to spy on people
    > via webcam without the victim knowing

    Which is why I'm seriously p*-ed off that computer and monitor makers won't manufacture ALL their webcam-enabled hardware with a simple slider-cover for the webcam. Of course, that would mean spending maybe 10 cents on a piece on each machine, and that might cut into the CEO's donut-and-sushi budget. And would probably entail a whole lot of tech-support calls brom brain-dead users who couldn't figure out their webcam was covered (sorry, if someone is that stupid, they're probably someone who *needs* to have their webcam covered).

    • JL
      March 6, 2014 at 3:06 am

      I agree but just use black electrical tape, it works fine for me. But my new computer lagged for a few seconds when I did it... From another James L ;-)

  9. A41202813GMAIL
    March 5, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Firewalls With No Exceptions Whatsoever, Yes,

    Antivirus Religiously Updated, Yes,

    M$ Updates, No.

    XP, FOREVER !

  10. ?????? ?
    March 5, 2014 at 3:20 am

    I don't know if any wierd traffic going out so I feel I am not infected

  11. CJ Cotter
    March 5, 2014 at 2:10 am

    The thing that gripes me is that many AV programs act like you are a 4-year-old who needs a mother, throwing up warning flags for EVERYthing I do on my computer. I get SICK of it! I feel trapped inside a hyper-protective cage on my computer. Are there any AV programs with common sense?

  12. Sarath
    March 4, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    Anti-virus - oh, yes ! I played that game for a decade and now I am on Macbook with OS X Mavericks. Ofcourse, the best way to safeguard a computer is keep it switched-off.

    But when its ON, Mac is much much better to any OS in the world !

    • Howard B
      March 5, 2014 at 12:03 am

      Yeah, you're secure, as long as you uninstall Java.

    • Howard B
      March 5, 2014 at 12:03 am

      Oh, did you install that critical SSL patch? You know, the one that fixes "GOTO FAIL"?

    • nope
      March 5, 2014 at 12:49 am

      A fantastic and flagrant disregard for the article is what you're proudly touting. Congratulations.

  13. James V
    March 4, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Run Linux, get your apps from the distro's repositories, don't play golf in a thunderstorm, and DON'T RUN WINDOWS.

    • Howard B
      March 5, 2014 at 12:02 am

      Unfortunately, I need to run Windows apps for work, and I need Windows to play games at home (don't tell me about Tux Racer or FreeCiv; those are nice, but I want more than 10-20 games or stuff from Steam).

    • James V
      March 6, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      I run Linux (Mint, mostly) at work among XP or W7 machines, and I collaborate on documents, presentations and spreadsheets with no problem. I keep my backups on an ext4 formatted drive, and if somebody gets a Cryptolocker virus and locks up all our (other) data I'll be a hero.

      The speed of Linux is like XP without antivirus. Maybe games play faster, I don't know (I suppose PlayOnLinux would slow it down). There's a couple hundred Steam Linux games so far, & more all the time.

  14. Michael L. Hartwell
    March 4, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    Nice work on the writing. Thanks.

  15. Zhong
    March 4, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    So another topic I heard about for some time against the views of installing an AV on a Linux system was that most viruses are designed for Windows and won't run under a Linux architecture. This doesn't remove the fact that there could be programs that's able to become root and wreak havoc but many other doesn't seem to be convinced that it'll happen often, especially since there will be two passwords ( one for root and other for admin) that'll forge a wall against hijackers.

    • dragonmouth
      March 5, 2014 at 1:18 pm

      The difference between Linux and Windows is that Linux is more compartmentalized. Unless you are specifically running an application program under the root userid, (you would be stupid to do so) there is no way that program can compromise system files. A virus or malware can only trash the userid it is running under. All other userids remain unaffected and, most importantly, the core system remains unaffected.

      In Windows, on the other hand, even an application executing under a limited userid can compromise the system files. It is ironic that while Microsoft borrowed a lot from Linux, it did not borrow the separation of Administrator and local userids. It would have gone a long way to make Windows safer.

  16. Tess
    March 4, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    I'll reinstall my OS once a year, making an IMG of it right after. I also backup data routinely and partition my HD to separate data from the OS. And I don't have Windows. I also don't update big OS version updates till about a week later so by then all the bugs would be fixed. I bet there are more new tricks to keeping your computer safe but these are basic. You need more than just an antivirus app.

  17. dragonmouth
    March 4, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    "There are a lot of antivirus apps to choose from, and choosing between them can be confusing."

    Unfortunately, the security industry is the major contributor to the confusion about the efficacy of various AVs. There are as many ratings lists as there are security organizations. Today we are supposed to take the list generated by AV-Test as the Gospel Truth. Tomorrow the list from Steve Gibson will be the "alpha and omega." And the day after, a Sophos list will be "le dernier cri."
    At one time or another I have seen every AV an the AV-Test list declared as The Absolute Best. Why can't all these "independent" organizations come to some concensus? How is an average computer user supposed to make an informed decision when the "experts" can't agree?

    • Godel
      March 5, 2014 at 1:04 am

      The test sites tend to largely agree on the top few AV program, namely Norton Symantec, Kaspersky, Bit Defender, Avast and Avira. Microsoft's AV programs are always near the bottom. Some test sites are av-test.org av-comparatives.org and dennistechnologylabs.com

  18. Guy Déridet
    March 4, 2014 at 10:34 am

    On Chromebooks we have no antivirus or anti malware to worry about if we use only apps and extensions from the Chrome Store.

    From next May it will be impossible to install non Google extensions or apps (except for dev releases) on Chromebooks and older non Chrome extensions will be removed.

    Of course there will be perhaps a genius hacker able to get through Chrome Store security (like with Linux) but we one say anyway that Chromebooks are much more safer computers than Windows or Mac.

    Chrome Os is a Linux system and the big difference is that on Linux virus or malware can perhaps get in (with difficulties) but cannot self multiply like on Windows machine.

    • Mikus
      March 4, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      I'm not sure you took note of the article . Sure, *nix based os' are more secure, but saying you dont require AV or AM because the new apps store is impenetrable would be unwise - there's plenty of others ways to hack in other than via the apps directly ....

    • Howard B
      March 5, 2014 at 12:00 am

      1) Chrome OS is NOT Linux, it's just enough code to get Chrome up and running. There's no "real" Linux OS underneath.
      2) Some Chrome extensions HAVE been found to be "malware," as in they display ads, steal your login information, or redirect you to sites of the developer's choosing.
      Many of these are because a malware developer decided to buy out an extension form the original developer. Google is trying to scan every extension in the Chrome Store, but it's an uphill battle....and no, you don't need to be a "genius developer."
      3) No, you can still install "non-Google" extensions; you won't be able to install an extension from any other websites other than the Chrome Store, or from a "local" .CRX (ChRome eXtension) file.
      4) Chromebooks are no more safe than any other PC, it's just there's less OS to hack, and fewer Chromebooks to become targets. OS X got hacked (through Java), and 1/3 of those computers are *still* infected.

    • James V
      March 6, 2014 at 1:17 pm

      Chrome and Android are built with the Linux kernel, but having your basement door locked and leaving the front door to your house open is not going to help much.

    • Jadon L
      March 25, 2014 at 3:07 am

      @Mikus
      Linux is not Unix-based, it is Unix-like.
      @Howard B
      Chrome OS is Linux- Linux is not an OS, it is a kernel. Chrome OS uses the Linux kernel, therefore it is Linux.

  19. QuantumPCSupport
    March 4, 2014 at 8:32 am

    At the beginning of my Computing world i also had such misconceptions. I thought that malware will not target me. Early stage i don't use internet. So i thought that my computer will not be affected with virus? After few days i realize i was wrong and i must use antivirus. Good post man.

    • Howard B
      March 4, 2014 at 11:54 pm

      Yes, I've seen the kids come home with an "autorun" virus on their thumbdrives every night for weeks because the school computers were infected. Viruses have even been found on commercial CD-ROMs (pressed by the thousands at the factories!) because the "master disc" was infected.

  20. bardwso
    March 4, 2014 at 7:59 am

    What about: Its normal for a game crack to create a false-negative virus warning?
    Always have me wondering.

    • Matheus P
      March 4, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      Yes and no.
      The AV software will probably see it as a virus because either it contains modified code to make the crack run or modifies code in another executable to make the crack run.
      Still, there's always the possibility that someone may have inserted malicious code in there too.

    • ann o'nymous
      March 17, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      As Matheus said, it can be normal, BUT many cracks contain malware (often added by a repackager, but who cares). Checking a file with virustotal.com is always a good idea in case of doubt.

  21. Paul Paras
    March 4, 2014 at 6:13 am

    Well i have used most of the above AV Softwares and from last couple of years i'm using Microsoft Security Essentials which is free, light, easy to use and by far the best AV software i've ever used. So, i suggest Windows 7 users to go for it and Windows 8 users can leave it upto Windows Defender.

    • Howard B
      March 4, 2014 at 11:52 pm

      Wrong. Even Microsoft says that Windows Defender/Microsoft Security Essentials is just a "barely better than nothing" antivirus, and it's failed *multiple* times on AV-Test.org; almost *any* up-to-date antivirus is better than Microsoft's. Read Bruce E's response if you don't believe me. AVG is free, and Avast! is free with a free serial number; both are top-notch, if not quite as good as $30-$60 paid antivirus.

    • Tim Shaw
      April 16, 2014 at 1:43 am

      Stay with Security Essentials as this is nothing more than another anti-Microsoft rant. Note the 'That Can' reference and not 'That Will'

      Howard.....Microsoft did not say that so stop throwing out falsehoods. This is ANOTHER article spammed out to push a press release. Check who won the contest and you will know who was paid what.

      I have been a white hat and black hat and know what I am talking about. By the time anti-virus detects something it is already too late.

  22. Tim B
    March 4, 2014 at 1:31 am

    Good read. Reminded me I need to update my AV. Going with Avira this time around.

  23. Daniel V
    March 3, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Personally, I leave up my security to Windows Defender.

    • Bruce E
      March 4, 2014 at 5:00 am

      Check the results at AV-Test.org. You may want to reconsider your choice of protection. It does have the worst protection score and normally does for all products tested. I always hear the comments about it never having a false positive, but how good does it make you feel to know that something that isn't a virus is never questioned while some viruses make it through without any kind of warning. Personally, I am willing to put up with the occasional false positive rather than many false negatives.

    • ann o'nymous
      March 17, 2014 at 12:27 pm

      Muhahahahahaha, very good one, thanks, you made my day :)

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