Some of you out there are wondering, what is malware and HOW ARE YOU READING MY MIND!? First, malware (from the root word "ware" meaning "stuff" and "mal" meaning "crusty Internetz") is a basic part of living life online. No matter who you are and what you do online, you will encounter it, often without even knowing that you are. After the jump, I will give you the basics of what malware is and how you can protect yourself from it.
What is malware?
Okay, can everyone be seated? Good, good. Okay, "malware" is basically any type of software that you do not wish to have on your computer. There are three basic types: adware, spyware, and viruses. Adware often comes from advertisements, or what the Phoneticians called "ads." They clog up your system by causing pop-ups and other annoying information on the screen. Spyware is legal yet sometimes malicious code that identifies the user by collecting data, etc. for various purposes. Viruses are what you get from opening those emails your mom forwards you. Just kidding. You can get them from anyone. Of the three, viruses can be the most debilitating, however all have the potential to slow down the performance of your machine.
How do I get malware?
Malware is all over the internet. Adware and Spyware are contained in a variety of sources, from those flashing adds promising you $100 for your used tissues to a pop-up of (insert famous actor/actress) doing coke off a bulldog. The most common misconception is that you have to click on these flashing happy do-dads to get the malware. Nuh-uh. By going to the page itself, you have already participated and exposed yourself. Again, once in a while is okay, but for an active surfer with little protection, it is like shaking hands with every person you see in a day. By the end of the day grime and crust will cause even Teflon to stick to your hand. Viruses are the particular nasty end of the spectrum, like the flu or children.
Is there a way to never get malware?
Never go online. It is the only way to never get any type of malware. Seriously. Become the Internet bubble boy.
How do I protect myself?
The easiest way is prevention. Know the websites you go to, like name brands. "Beer" brand beer made in the back of a pickup truck might be awesome, but you know where Budweiser came from. Do not open any emails you do not recognize. If for some reason it looks like your computer illiterate dad suddenly learned to type in ASCII, might not wanna open that one. If you have any doubt that the attachment called "hot lovin" is not your grandmother's prize chili recipe, do not open it.
I think I have malware. What now?
DOOM! HORRIBLE DOOM!
Except, no. If there's one great and tragic thing about the human experience, it is that you are probably not the first person to have this happen to you. Honestly, google it. Anything. Somebody else did or experienced or imagined it first. Six billion and change, folks, more than half have access to the Internet. That's a whole lot of experience to draw from. In fact, many companies have made businesses off of it.
It really all goes back to prevention. Running scans of your computer is easy and there are many free programs that allow you to do so. Here's a list of several free ones. Select multiple or all of them and take a weekend or night or so and free your computer from the stress.
Most computers come with six months or so of antivirus software. They are good, but here's some free ones that are just as good after that first six months:
Best not to use more than one antivirus program at a time, they generally stay active at all times and more than one can slow your computer as much as the malware they are trying to prevent.
Oh, and that second thing? I HAVE SUPERPOWERS FOR YOUR MIND HOLE, DUDE!