What is malware?
Unfortunately, we spend a lot of our time removing various forms of malware and “potentially unwanted programs” (or “PUPS”) from customer PCs. What is malware, you ask? Well, it’s a general term intended to mean “malicious software” that technically does not quite fit in the same category as a traditional computer virus. What are “PUPS?” These are programs that often, the user did not intend to install, but are piggybacked alongside an (often “free”) application the user has downloaded to their PC. We find that many users do not read the fine print when they install these “free” applications, and as a result, they end up with any number of “PUPS” on their PCs, which can do any numbers of things, including malicious things that compromise the security of their PCs, often without their knowledge. We also see many users inadvertently infecting their PCs with malware and/or PUPS by clicking on misleading links when browsing the web that can automatically install this unwanted software, often first noticed after the next time the PC has been shut down and restarted. Sometimes these infections are designed to disable built-in safeguards in our PCs, and then to download and install other malicious items, causing the issue to really spiral out of control. We’ve seen many cases where a customer’s PC is infected with literally hundreds of these infections. Perhaps the worst example of malware is the recent trend towards “ransomware”, where an infected PC is held at ransom by the writers of the malware, who hide/encrypt/delete your personal files and demand a ransom payment to return your PC back to its previous state.
Can’t you just fix it for me?
Yes we can, and if you suspect that your PC is already infected, we highly recommend that you contact us for professional help to resolve the issue appropriately. However, the issue is often that the damage done by these malware infections is so widespread in the PC by the time our customer involves us, that the best course of action is a full reinstall of the operating system, driver software, and applications. There is always a chance that user data files such as documents and photos have been infected by the malware as well, so we have to back up all user data to a properly protected “quarantine PC” to analyze and disinfect, take an inventory of as many of the user’s installed applications & system settings as possible, and then rebuild that PC from scratch, reinstall all the security updates for it, reinstall all the hardware drivers, applications, and user preferences. This is certainly not impossible, but it can be an extremely time-consuming, and therefore expensive, task to undertake. And once this process is completed, if proper steps are not taken to secure the PC and educate the user, the same infections can very easily happen again.
So how do I protect myself?
When it comes to malware and PUPS, the best approach is prevention (rather than cure after the infection has happened), and user education to prevent re-infection. We specialize in Windows PCs (other platforms are also vulnerable), so we offer advice only relating to Windows devices (and would encourage you to seek out expert advice on other platforms as well). All versions of Windows since Vista in 2006 have included basic antivirus software which is capable of some degree of malware protection. However, that is not what this software is primarily to protect against. As I touched upon earlier, malware is clever at getting around the detection systems used by pretty much any popular antivirus software package you can think of. So really, you need protection that is designed to recognize the specific behaviour of malware & PUPS, and prevent it from getting into your PC in the first place. Enter the Premium edition of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. This is software designed specifically to proactively protect you from these types of threats. It is designed to work alongside traditional antivirus software, so you don’t need to give up any protection you may have already installed and/or purchases for your PC. The folks at Malwarebytes do offer some guides for optimizing the performance of their software alongside your antivirus software, so you’ll have the best protection with minimal usage of your PC’s resources. It’s very important to understand that only the “Premium” version of this software provides proactive protection, which is crucial against these types of threats. Many users are tempted by the free version, but the limitation of the free version is a big one, in that it offers ONLY tools to remove EXISTING threats already on your PC, and no real-time protection whatsoever. I cannot emphasize strongly enough how well the Premium version of this software works to protect you proactively. I imagine that as you read this article, you’re thinking “they’re trying to sell me something.” If you purchase Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Premium from Malwarebytes, we don’t make any money at all from that, and because you’ll have protected your PC from the vast majority of online threats (nothing is truly 100%), there will be a much smaller chance that you will need to hire someone to fix your PC due to infection. So what we’re really talking about is a win-win for you. A properly protected PC, less chance of having to pay to have it repaired or rebuilt due to infection, and less chance of severe data loss (due to file infection/corruption or ransomware infection).
In short, a protected PC is a happy PC. This method of protection has all but eliminated infection from the vast majority of our customer PCs. That makes us happy because our customers are happy, their PCs are clean, they are not spreading infection to their friends and family, and in return we hope they keep us in mind when they’re in need of hardware repairs, upgrades, a new PC, or some professional help with their latest tech project. 🙂