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How did I get a virus
Current Threat Level
How Did My Computer Get Infected With A Virus Or Malware?
Well, Your computer has the latest and greatest antivirus software installed and you’ve paid good money to keep it up to date. "RIGHT" And yet, here you are with these ad popups or scary-looking fake “antivirus” warning screens or your Google searches are being hijacked. Now you’re asking yourself, “How did I get infected with malware when I have antivirus software installed?” The answer is, unfortunately, both complicated and technical.
Let’s look at the reasons and break it down for you:
There’s an all-out war going on between the good guys and the bad guys. The ongoing battle between those who want to attack and those who want to protect your computer is often described as an “arms race.” The hackers find a new way around the antivirus software, so the antivirus guys make new updates to protect against that attack. Then the hackers observe and dissect how the antivirus product operates so they can devise a new attack that the antivirus software isn’t looking for, and so on. The attackers always have the advantage in this situation.
Being “connected to the internet” puts you at risk. You’ll hear computer techs insist that “the only truly secure computer is the one that has no internet or network connection.” They’re not just hand-waving away the problem, this is an accurate statement. But since we all have work to do we choose to take the risk of being connected. Why is the computer so insecure, then? Think of it like a house: In order for the home to be a useful place to live, you have to be able to get people and things into and out of that house. Any door you can use can also be used by friends, neighbors, and thieves under certain circumstances. You can take precautions like using good locks and installing alarms, but any thief who is determined & skilled enough can get at the things in your house regardless.
It can be hard to decipher between good vs. malicious choices. An operating system’s job is, at the most basic level, to let you do things with your computer. Microsoft, Apple, and the others all have competing challenges: Offering you the power and control to perform any possible task and protecting your computer from dangerous or mistaken choices. In the end, what you as the user choose to do is what the operating system is going to let you do. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to know which are the right choices when the bad guys are constructing their software to look just like legitimate programs and with real dialog windows to fool enough of the people enough of the time.
Your web browser is often a major culprit. Related to the problem of the operating system doing what you tell it to is the matter of your web browser. It has one job: Take the Internet and combine it into text and pictures etc., right on the screen for your enjoyment or employment. Given that the Internet is what everybody’s using, the bad guys focus on tricks that work in web browsers first and foremost. In the IT field, we almost never hear about old-fashioned viruses anymore. When it’s so much easier to infect via the World Wide Web, why bother with any other method? And with some web browsers being tied very closely into the operating system itself, if the bad guys can fool the browser well enough then they can get completely around the antivirus product as well as the user.
But browser plugins can make you even more vulnerable to attack. What’s worse, the browser itself is only as safe as the plugins installed. Flash, Java, and Adobe Reader are the new focus for attackers as they weren’t designed originally with security in mind. When they were created the Internet was a much less dangerous place and features were included that seemed to offer users some great things, but instead have turned out to be far more useful to the malware writers instead.
So, given this information, what can you do about it?
The antivirus folks and the browser makers and the software developers and the operating system vendors all want to protect you, and they’re still in that arms race. Little by little, things are getting better.
First, Keep everything up to date. Second, make sure you update your browsers and plugins and keep your system up to date with patches for your operating system. It seems like a nuisance to have to keep doing all these updates, but that’s far better than finding yourself without a working computer because something bad gets in and infects your computer.
Third, try to be aware of what your computer is prompting you for and why. Did that dialog asking permission for something appear because you initiated an action, or did it happen out of nowhere? If you meant for something to happen that’s one thing, but otherwise be very cautious and double check.
Be aware of “free” offers, an always remember the cost of things. One of the easiest ways to infect someone’s computer is to offer them something for free, then sneak in a nasty program as part of the product. Anything that’s “free” on the Internet is coming with some kind of cost, be it demographic data or advertising dollars or the chance to take over your computer in exchange for some trinket. Google offers email for free because they can gather data about you and use that to target advertising at you more accurately. The bad guys offer games and illicit software, services, movies, music etc. in exchange for adding junk to your computer. Shop smart, know what you are installing and what you are agreeing to and you’ll be much safer.
This is what we recommend you do:
Nothing can protect you completely except for turning off the computer and unplugging your network cable. Since that defeats the purpose and limits the ability of your computer, instead you should stay aware, keep your antivirus software and operating system and hardware drivers up to date, and play it smart. You’ll be fine most of the time if you do. As always, At Home Computer is here to help, just give me a call and schedule an appointment. Take a look at or our software page for our recommendations on which security products you can use to protect yourself.