Use an anti-malware application and keep it up to date

Once you've ensured that there are no gaping holes in your machine's defenses, it's time to think about taking action against anything malicious that might slip through.

Viruses or worms can exploit previously unknown (or "zero-day") security holes and set up shop on your computer, using it as a launching pad for attacks on other systems. This kind of software is known as "malware" and is often created for financial gain. A computer can become infected with malware when an infected application is downloaded and run, either by an unsuspecting user, a compromised website, or a network worm.

Authors and distributors of malware can monetize an infection by:

  • Getting paid for every advertisement the program can pop up or email the program can send from the infected desktop.
  • Stealing private information, like credit card numbers, from infected computers and reselling it to third parties.
  • Acquiring sufficient information from a computer to assume the identity of the computer user and making purchases.
  • Encrypting the contents of the drive and ransoming your own data back to you.

Tips about anti-malware scanners

  • While scanning a machine with an anti-malware application is a good measure, it does not need to be done every day. 
  • The real time protection functionality is much more immediately helpful. 
  • This functionality will attempt to stop and quarantine malware as it attempts to execute.
  • Most viruses and malware can be prevented by anti-malware software. 
  • Keep in mind that an anti-malware application cannot defeat viruses or spyware that it does not know about, so it's very important that it be kept up to date. 

Columbia University has purchased a Malwarebytes site license to ensure anti-malware software is available to all users within the University.