Malware, or malicious software, includes spyware, viruses, adware, worms, Trojans, keyloggers, potentially unwanted programs and other types of code that infect computers without permission. Hackers and criminals started creating malware in the mid-1980s, and it — along with many myths about it — has flourished ever since.
Understanding common myths and how to implement security best practices will help you protect your computer and feel more confident in your online activities. Here are 10 of the most common malware myths, and the facts that prove them wrong.
Fact: Most software makers regularly release updates to address specific security issues. An outdated computer is more prone to crashes, security holes and cyberattacks than one that's been fully patched. Despite this, many people ignore initial software-update prompts. Set your operating system and software to automatically update, or manually update them as soon as you receive a notification.
Fact: Numerous studies estimate that about one-third of the world's computers are infected with malware or adware at any given time. However, many people can't tell whether their computers are compromised. While some malware slows down computers, other types try to run undetected. The only way to know for sure if your computer is infected is to run scans using antivirus or anti-malware software.
Fact: A decade ago, Apple's low market share made Macs virtually safe from malware, and hackers were more inclined to develop malware that affected Windows PCs. Today, Apple's share of the personal-computer market has grown significantly, and along with that has come a marked increase in the amount of malware affecting Macs. One study said Macs saw five times as many malware attacks in 2015 than in 2010 through 2014 combined.
Fact: Even the best-known websites can be corrupted with malware — it's happened to Yahoo, The New York Times, the BBC, AOL and The Huffington Post in the past two years. A common criminal tactic is to place malicious online ads — also known as malvertising — on legitimate websites. Visitors don't have to click on one of these online ads; just viewing it sends malware to their computers. The best way to protect yourself is to patch or disable Adobe Flash Player and other browser plugins, and to run antivirus software.
Fact: There are dozens of free antivirus software options that protect both PCs and Macs. We recommend Avira Free Antivirus and Avira Free Antivirus for Mac. Both automatically update themselves and run scans so that you don't have to worry about properly protecting your computer.
Fact: Malware doesn't often search through a computer's hard drive for private information. Instead, it will try to access your email account and send out spam to your contacts. Or, it will record your keystrokes to steal credit-card numbers and login information for bank accounts, social-networking platforms and other online accounts.
Fact: Wiping your computer clean, reinstalling the operating system and copying your files from a backup drive isn't simple. If you aren't thorough and careful, you may restore the malware as well. It can stick around in backed-up files or in hidden sectors of the hard drive long after you think it's been destroyed, and you may damage your system or lose data in the process of trying to eliminate it. Make sure to scan all files for malware before restoring them, and make sure your antivirus software scans for bootkits and rootkits.