Malware, or malicious software, is designed to infiltrate your computer to perform unauthorized activities. Examples of malicious software include viruses, computer worms, Trojan horses, spyware, and scareware.

Malware is spread over the Internet using various methods, including e-mails, pop-ups, compromised websites and instant messaging just to name a few. Once your computer has been compromised, your personal information may be exposed to criminals as the malicious software may allow them to monitor your keystrokes, scan through the files on your hard drive, read cookies or open applications and transmit your information to others.

If your computer has been infected with malicious software, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • The system performance may be negatively affected which will cause your computer to slow, crash or freeze.
  • You may have difficulty accessing the Internet.
  • Your Internet browser may have changes to the toolbar(s) and could re-direct you to other websites.

There are different variations of malicious software. Some of the most common types include:

  • Trojan horses – this looks like software that performs a desirable function, but once downloaded onto your computer, it may allow unauthorized access to your computer system.
  • Spyware – also known as tracking software, is an application that gathers information about you without your knowledge. The primary function of these applications is to collect personal information stored on your computer and monitor websites you visit and items you purchase online. Spyware has become the number one threat on the Internet surpassing spam or virus infections.
  • Scareware – is typically an Internet pop-up message that is designed to alarm you and provoke you into downloading what you believe to be information or software that will help.

A current example of a scareware ad is the anti-virus pop-up message. The message poses as a browser window that could pop-up at any time while surfing the Web and often resembles a program window or dialog box, leading you to believe the message is being generated by your own computer.

The message generally sends you to a product purchase or activation site. By purchasing this software, you may have provided your credit card information directly to criminals.  The downloaded software may in fact do nothing to protect you, or it may actually compound the damage by disabling security protections, gathering more malware, capturing passwords or accessing personal information to commit fraud.