Written by Elliot Puddle -
When it comes to computers and internet security, there are a lot of different terms thrown around. Computer viruses, malware, trojan horses - these likely ring a bell. They're some of the most commonly used terms, but do you know what they mean? Will an antivirus product protect me from these threats? Is anti-malware different?
Most people are familiar with the idea of a computer virus, however the widespread use of the word is a bit of a misnomer. In actual fact, a computer virus is actually a form of malware. Although in depth knowledge of malware is uncommon among most users, the naming conventions make it easier to guess what they might be about. Malware, short for malicious software, acts an an umbrella term and helps us to categorise these various threats.
The most commonly known threat is a computer virus. Once a computer is infected, the virus spreads and continues to multiply as it corrupts more and more files until there is nothing left. Similar to a virus, a computer worm will infect a computer and multiply. The difference between a worm and a virus is that once a computer is infected with a worm, the worm will travel through a computer's network to infect other devices connected to the network while the virus will stay on the one computer.
Trojan horses on the other hand do not self replicate and act more as a delivery method for different kinds of malware. Trojans are often found alongside or disguised as illegal downloads for music, video games or other kinds of software. Once a trojan is installed on a computer it will leave a 'backdoor' open, allowing for unauthorised access of your computer by an unknown third party. Some trojan horses carry additional 'payloads' or secondary programs such a spyware or ransomware. Ransomware is very simply, ransom software. Generally delivered via a trojan, ransomware can lock a user out of accessing specific functions unless a ransom is paid. Other times personal information can be stolen and threatened to be leaked online. Ransomware can vary in its severity but the same principle always applies. A user is denied access unless they meet ransom demands.
Spyware, although invasive, is not malware per se, but rather a category of its own that encompasses different programs. Spyware is actually used by many legitimate companies such as social media giants Facebook and Twitter, but is implemented in such a way that requires a user’s consent. However there are more malicious forms of spyware that can steal, alter or monitor personal information. Adware, much like spyware, isn’t necessarily malicious. Adware is most often used to provide an advertisement platform within a program to generate revenue for the program’s author. Generally in the form of pop-ups, adware can range from legitimate advertisements that are simply annoying to malicious attacks that create seemingly unclosable windows.
Since the recent influx of smartphones, adware can often be found in free mobile apps. Some shady businesses have even created low cost devices that have adware pre-built into the phones causing buyers grief.
An educated consumer can generally navigate these threats fairly easily. It's just a matter of knowing what to avoid and making sure you have the right software installed.
As I mentioned before, trojans are a the most common delivery method for malware and are generally disguised as something else. Legitimate websites and service providers can almost guarantee 100% that any file downloaded from their platform will be virus free. The risk arises however, when you download files from uncertified sources such as websites that host or provide links to illegal versions of games and software. The rule of thumb for avoiding trojans is always look for genuine service providers when looking to purchase games or software. Trying to cut corners by finding free copies of products almost always results in malware.
But let's say you make a mistake, someone you trust sends you an email with an attachment that sends you to an unknown website. It immediately starts an unauthorised download and the download likely contains a trojan. How do you avoid this? That's where antivirus and antimalware programs come in handy. For the most part, these types of programs do the same thing. They allow you to scan your computer for possible threats and remove them, but perhaps the most helpful part is the live protection service most antivirus programs offer.
Let's go back to the previous scenario. Say you click on the unknown link, that unauthorised download will be stopped by the antivirus because it has detected a possible threat. One of the only downsides to this live protection is that it requires the antivirus to be continually running in the background, potentially causing performance issues on a user's computer.
Now that you've learnt some of the terms and what to look out for, the final step is finding the antivirus that works for you. There are many different companies that provide this software and while many of them set out to achieve the same goal, they all have subtle differences. To make it easier for you, we've compiled a list of the top antivirus software on the market today. Comparing the pro and cons of each with in depth reviews as well as overviews of the key features. Hopefully you've learnt some helpful tips on how to stay safe while navigating the web.