University of Southern California

What Is Malware?

Posted on by mechling

What is malware?

Malware – a contraction of “malicious software” – is just that: hostile software designed to infiltrate a device without the owner’s knowledge, often with damaging effects. Malware can take many forms, including spyware, which monitors your system and steals sensitive information; adware, which automatically displays unwanted advertising; and ransomware, which hackers can use to extort money from users by encrypting important files.

How does malware work?

Malware can enter your machine through specially crafted pop-up ads or websites, compromised email attachments, or embedded code in unrelated downloads, to name a few sources. Once installed on your computer, malware can initiate a wide range of unwanted activity including stealing your personal information, spamming your inbox, hijacking your browser, and slowing down your connection.

How can I protect myself against malware?

The best way to protect yourself is to stop malware before it reaches your machine. Here are some tips to follow:

  • Download antivirus software, which is designed to detect, remove, and prevent the spread of malware. All USC faculty, staff, and students can download Sophos Endpoint Security software free from the ITS website.
  • Keep your software up to date. Download updates for your operating system, browser, and applications as soon as they are available.
  • Use firewalls. Firewalls prevent hackers from accessing your computer by blocking unused network ports. You can find instructions on how to use the Windows firewall here and the Mac firewall here.
  • Be cautious when clicking on links. Hackers may try to infect your computer by sending you an email with a compromised attachment or a link to a webpage specially crafted to download malware onto your machine. Learn how to recognize suspicious emails here.

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