Myth-busting the 10 most ridiculous malware myths
Malware myths! How many times has your mum been on the phone to you because a scammer has phoned her up to tell her that her PC has a virus?
She doesn’t even own a PC—but what does that matter when she’s terrified by the idea of a virus? Even for the more tech-savvy among us, malware myths are common. Some of the myths don’t even make sense, so today we’re going to take a look at the worst of them and separate the truth from the lies.
1. Viruses are worse than malware
By its definition malware is malicious software, so viruses are actually a type of malware. Lots of people think that malware is fairly harmless and that viruses are the scary bad guys that will wreck their computer.
Truth: Viruses are a type of malware.
2. Macs can’t get viruses
Macs can’t be harmed by Windows-based viruses, but if you want to say that your Mac categorically can’t get a virus then unfortunately you could find yourself in trouble. One of the first viruses ever set loose in the wild was written for Apple. It was called Elk Cloner and was written by a fifteen-year-old all the way back in 1982.
Over the last few years, a type of malware called Spyware has been popular with hackers. Spyware gets into your computer and mines into your data. Think of it as being a bit like this: you have a diary (the computer), and a nosey sibling (the spyware) manages to highjack the lock on your diary and get to all your secrets.
While you might like to think that your Mac is free of malware, the truth is that if you’re not being careful, your Mac may be infected, which could lead to a hacker stealing your bank details, account log-ins, or any and all information that you’ve typed into your computer. Oh no!
Truth: Macs can get viruses too
3. Malware is created by antimalware companies.
There’s an old myth that antivirus companies are actually responsible for creating the malware that they sell protection for.
There’s no evidence that backs this conspiracy up. The myth belongs to a certain type of malware that was popular in the early noughties: a pop-up on a website would tell you that you had x number of viruses or nasty things on your computer. You’d click the link, and a virus would end up on your computer. Sneaky!
Hackers would also create antivirus software with the particular aim of stealing money from people who used it. It still happens: you’re browsing the web and your browser starts flashing an image about how your computer is infected.
Most internet users now know that trusted antivirus software is vital to keeping their computer or laptop ticking over.
Truth: Antimalware companies don’t create malware.
4. Malware can’t hurt me if I have nothing important on my computer.
Remember that spyware thing we mentioned earlier? It’s pretty nasty and can keep track of everything you type. It can steal your bank account details, your contacts, and precious information. Pretty scary, right?
Even if you don’t have documents or files you want to keep safe, you probably use the internet to surf the web, for online banking, or to shop. All of these activities mean you type important information into your browser. While you don’t need to hit the panic button, it’s always best to regularly run security scans on your computer to make sure your private information stays private.
Truth: Some kinds of malware steal information directly from your browser or whatever you type.
5. You’ll know if you’ve got a virus or malware on your computer
In 2007, the Storm worm was let loose around the internet. Posing as a breaking news piece on the bad weather in Europe, the worm infected millions of PCs. Worms travel through the online network, so got into computers when people opened the news piece.
Millions of PCs were taken over by hackers who spread spam and sold identities. How scary! While you might think a virus is going to be really obvious, many of them, like the Storm worm, are subtle.
Truth: Some malware is very sophisticated so you might not know your computer is infected.
6. Viruses will somehow physically damage your computer
No, a virus or malware isn’t going to make your laptop explode or cause the hard-drive to melt or your mouse to go on a frenzy. Viruses and malware affect your laptop on different levels: sometimes superficial and sometimes sneaking down to a BIOS-level. BIOS are the instructions in firmware that control input and output operations.
Basically, your laptop or computer will have BIOS installed for just about everything from your mouse to your screen. These BIOS are on a chip in your computer and tell your computer’s operating system (Mac or Windows) what to do with hardware e.g. your mouse or speakers. If a virus infects your BIOS, your computer will act very weirdly (or not work at all!).
Truth: Malware can’t physically harm your computer.
7. Malware made me do it
The “it” usually revolves around pop-ups and adult sites. Your virus or malware didn’t get you there. Pop-ups are often accidental, but a virus probably didn’t navigate your browser to that URL.
Truth: No one believes you!
8. Pop-ups are malware.
Pop-ups within your browser probably aren’t malware. They happen on certain sites and are usually more annoying than dangerous. Tip: don’t click on pop-ups even if they’re telling you that you’ve won the lotto. Did you even do the lottery? Exactly.
Exit out to the screen you were on before.
Now, if you’re online and you visit a website and bright green links are everywhere or there are strange ads in places where you wouldn’t normally see them, your computer has probably been infected with malware.
If you think you’ve been infected with malware, run your antivirus software and uninstall any recent programs.
How to uninstall a program on a Mac
1. Open your Applications folder and browse for the program you want to uninstall. Some files will be a single icon, like Safari, while others like Word will be in a folder.
2. Drag the program to the trash.
3. Empty your trash!
How to uninstall a program on Windows
1. Click the Start Button, then Control Panel.
2. Click Programs, then Programs and Features.
3. Select or right-click a program and then click Uninstall.
9. Firewalls will protect you from malware.
This is a popular one that gained credibility in TV shows and films. You know how it is: our hero is ten seconds away from being blown to pieces and a hacker is stopped when Bruce Willis mentions a firewall.
Firewalls won’t keep you safe from most malware. A firewall will keep you safe from worms. Worms might sound cute, but they’re really not! Worms travel from computer-to-computer over the internet, which is why your firewall will shut them out.
Of course we’re not suggesting you ignore your firewall. Make sure it’s up-and-running!
Truth: Firewalls will only keep you safe from a type of malware called worms.
10. Email attachments from friends and family are safe.
Most of the time email attachments are safe. Most internet users are savvy enough to know not to open attachments from strangers as they could contain a virus. But we’re often much less safe when it comes to opening attachments from people we trust.
Your partner’s name attached to a document doesn’t automatically mean the attachment is safe, or even from your partner!
Sometimes, they’ve accidentally given out their log-in details and a spammer is sending emails. Usually, these are pretty obvious as the mail contains mixed-up English and strange links and attachments. But you never know.
Don’t click on them, not even out of curiosity. Curiosity killed the cat and it may well kill your computer!
If you’re not sure about an attachment or a link in an email from someone you know, you can ask them about it or you can run a quick security check on it. A good rule of thumb is to see what the file extension is.
A file extension tells you what type of file the attachment is, as well as the program that can open it. For example, a .docx is a type of Microsoft Word file, while a .jpg is a type of image file.
Never download an .exe unless you know exactly what it is. An .exe is an executable file, which means it’ll launch a program or installer if you download it. Most inboxes tell you what the file extension is. In Gmail, you’ll need to move your mouse over the attachment.
Be especially careful with files named things like .docx.exe, for example, as the person who sent the file has renamed it to make it seem like it’s safe. The only part of the extension that matters is the very last part, so in the .docx.exe example, it’s an executable file with an .exe extension.
Truth: Email attachments from people you know aren’t always safe to open.
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