Avoiding malware

Software that purposefully compromises your privacy, damages your data, or uses your device to perpetrate unlawful activity is called malware. Viruses are a kind of malware.

Vulnerabilities in apps can create ways for malware to get into your computer, tablet or smartphone, which is why it’s so important to keep your software up to date.

But you can also install malware directly. Of course, you wouldn’t do this on purpose! So it follows that such malware must arrive surreptitiously, and trick you into allowing it to run.

Fake websites

People often encounter malware while trying to install genuine software. Be aware that when you search the web, for example with Bing or Google:

When downloading software from the web, be sure to visit the website of the company that makes it. The best way to tell you’re on an official site is to check the URL displayed in your browser.

Unofficial apps

Software is increasingly available via app stores, like the Apple App Store on the iPad and iPhone and the Google Play Store on Android phones and tablets.

Developers must meet certain conditions to have their apps made available this way, and the stores perform checks on the apps they deliver. So it’s generally safer to download new software from an app store than from the web.

However, the curation of these stores isn’t perfect, and malicious apps are sometimes available for a while before being flagged and removed. You might also find unofficial or ‘fake’ imitations of popular apps, which can provide an inferior experience even if they do no harm.

Before installing an app, check:

Bogus security software

Ironically, some malware presents itself as software that will protect you from malware. You might be told “Warning! Your phone is infected with five viruses! Tap here to clean it.”

But what you’re actually seeing is just an ‘advert’ on a web page. It knows nothing about your device, and every visitor sees the same fictitious message.

Three ways to recognise these bogus warnings include:

Malicious email attachments

Finally, one of the oldest means of delivering malware remains common today: email attachments. One of the most serious kinds of malware, called ransomware, is often spread this way.

As a general rule, if you’re even slightly unsure about an attachment you’ve received, don’t open it.

Mythbusting

To complement your knowledge of the main ways you might be tricked into infecting your computer, tablet or smartphone with malware, it is helpful to note a few common situations that don’t pose much of a risk. Misconceptions in this area cause unnecessary worry. Here are some myths and corresponding facts: