1. What is Malware?  2. Types of Malware  3. Combating Malware  4. Recommended Anti-Malware Software
5. Solution #1 - Exterminate It!  6. Solution #2 - SuperAntiSpyware 

What is Malware and Why Should You Care?
You may think that your laptop or desktop computer is safe from the prying eyes of criminals who want to steal your personal information such as passwords, credit card information, banking information, stock information, and other financial and personal information because you have firewall and anti-virus software installed. Well, I thought the same way until a few weeks ago. That is why you should read on!

Maybe you, like I, have recently noticed some small discrepencies in how your computer or programs work that by themselves might not be alarming, but together are disconcerting, such as:

Eliminate Malware from Your Computer
  1. Computer running slowly all the time or at a specific time each day such as every evening;
  2. Websites you want to log into stating that your account is already logged into from another computer;
  3. Finding in your Outlook, Outlook Express, or similar email software returned emails that were undeliverable... to addresses and people you do not even know;
  4. Popup ads on your web browser or your desktop when you have a popup blocker enabled;
  5. Unexpected new browser windows or redirects to advertising or other websites;
  6. Unusual "mouse click" sounds while using your browser; or
  7. Other small things that collectively seem odd and make you feel that you are "being watched".
Well, I researched the problem of malicious software, called "malware" for short, and found out that there are many types of malware and that firewalls and anti-virus software frequently miss them. I personally use Norton 360, which is very satisfactory for controlling web traffic to and from my laptop and for finding viruses, but cannot detect many types of malware even using the "deep scan" option. Even individual anti-malware programs cannot find all malware and so it is best to use several anti-malware programs to scan and remove malware from your computer.

How does malware "infect" a computer? Well, malware can infect computers by being bundled with other programs or attached as macros to files. Some malware is installed on your computer by exploiting a known vulnerability in the operating system (OS), a network device, or other software. For example, a security hole in a browser only requires that you visit an infected or malicious website to infect your computer. However, the vast majority of malware is installed by some action from the computer user such as clicking an e-mail attachment or downloading a file from the Internet.

Two of the most common types of malware are computer viruses and worms which are malicious programs that are able to self-replicate and can spread copies of themselves. Some viruses can make modified copies of themselves to suit particular circumstances and to make themselves less able to be detected by anti-malware programs by having new virus "signatures" (computer code patterns). That is why typical anti-malware software is automatically updated frequently to detect these new virus signatures. Conversely, worms operate more or less independently of other files rather than depending on a host program to spread itself as viruses do.

The various types of malware include:

Computer Viruses  
Viruses - A type of malware that propagates by inserting a copy of itself into and becoming part of another computer program. Viruses spread by actively seeking out other computers to infect. Damage caused by viruses ranges in severity from mildly annoying, to destroying data, and being available on millions of computers to launch coordinated denial of service (DoS) attacks that overload and shut down web servers. Almost all viruses are attached to an executable file (.exe or .dll on Windows) so the virus may exist buried in a host file or program but remain inactive until a user runs or opens the malicious host file or program. Viruses spread when the host file or document they are attached to is transferred from one computer to another using the network, a disk, file sharing, or infected e-mail attachments.

Worms - Computer worms are similar to viruses in that they replicate fully-functional copies of themselves and can cause the same type of damage. In contrast to viruses which require the spreading of an infected host file or document, worms are stand alone software that do not require a host file or program or human help to propagate. Rather, worms either exploit a vulnerability on the target OS or use some kind of social engineering to trick users into executing them. A worm enters a computer through a vulnerability in the system and takes advantage of file-transport or information-transport features on the system, allowing it to travel unaided.
  Computer Worms
Computer Trojans  
Trojans - Another type of malware named after the wooden horse the Greeks used to infiltrate Troy. Trojans are harmful software that looks legitimate such that users are tricked into loading and executing it on their computers. Following activation, trojans can achieve any number of attacks on the host computer, from irritating the user with popup windows or changing desktops, to damaging deleting files, stealing data, or activating and spreading other malware, such as viruses). Trojans are also known to create back doors to give malicious users access to the computer. Unlike viruses and worms, trojans do not reproduce by infecting other files nor do they self-replicate. Rather, trojans spread through user interaction such as opening an e-mail attachment or downloading and running a file from the Internet.

Bots - Bots interact with computer networks to automate tasks and provide information or services that would otherwise be done manually. They can be used for good intent to gather information (e.g. web crawlers) and interact with instant messaging (IM) web interfaces. Bots can be used for bad intent to infect computers that connect back to a central malicious server to control an entire network of the infected computers called a "botnet" to launch DoS attacks against web servers. Bots can also log computer keystrokes, gather passwords and financial information, relay spam, and open back doors on infected computers.
  Computer Botnets
Computer Rootkits  
Rootkits - A rootkit is a collection of tools (programs) that enable administrator-level access to a computer or a computer network. Typically, a hacker installs a rootkit on a computer after first becoming a regular user with user-level access to the computer or server by exploiting a known vulnerability of the OS or by using a program to guess the administrator's password. Once installed, a rootkit allows the hacker to mask the intrusion and gain root access to the computer or the computer network. A rootkit may include spyware and other programs that monitor computer traffic and keystrokes, create a "backdoor" into the computer or network to allow access for the hacker's use, alter server log files, and attack other computers on the network.

Keystroke Loggers - Sometimes called a keylogger, key logger, or system monitor, keystroke loggers are either a hardware device or a computer program that monitors and records each keystroke made on the computer's keyboard. Keystroke loggers are often promoted for benign purposes such as allowing parents to monitor children's activity on the Internet. As a hardware device, a keystroke logger is a small plug that resembles a standard keyboard plug that connects the user's keyboard to the computer andf is effectively hidden "in plain sight". Conversely, a keystroke logger program is downloaded onto the target computer by someone who wants to monitor user activity or it is downloaded unwittingly as spyware by the computer's user. The keystroke logger records and periodically uploads to a monitoring computer via the Internet a record of each keystroke the computer user types.
  Computer Keystroke Loggers
Computer Rootkits  
Adware - Adware is free software that provides desired computer functionality for users. The development and upgrade of adware is thus supported by paid ads that periodically present themselves to users on their computer screens. Common adware programs are toolbars for your web browser that include features such as advanced Internet searching and better organization of your bookmarks and shortcuts. Though most adware is safe to use (albiet somewhat annoying), some can serve as spyware that gathers your passwords and other confidential information, the websites you visit, or your keystrokes. So be sure that any adware that you install on your computer is from a reputable company and read the privacy agreement that comes with it.

Tracking Cookies - A cookie is a small, uniquely named file that websites ask your web browser to store on your computer when you visit them. The cookie will be accepted or not based on your browser settings. A cookie might store your name and password if you checked the "remember me" box on the website, and that you have viewed a product ad on their website five times. Then, when you visit the website again, it automatically fills in your name and password and displays ads for similar products of interest to you. Some web users consider cookies useful while others consider them an invasion of privacy. Tracking cookies additionally store information on your web browsing habits so the issuing website can use this information to market other products to you that are similar to those sold on visited websites.
  Computer Keystroke Loggers

How to Combat Viruses, Worms, Trojans, and Bots:

The first step to protecting your computer is to ensure that your OS is up-to-date. This means regularly applying the most recent patches and fixes recommended by the OS vendor. Also, be sure to use the latest version of your preferred browser which likely has fixed security flaws of previous versions.

Secondly, initiate security-sensitive transactions on the web, such as with your bank, only using a "fresh browser" meaning that you close your browser, then open your browser and conduct your transaction. Be sure to log out to close the transaction session so a hacker cannot take over the session. Then, close your browser and relaunch your browser to do your normal web browsing.

Remove Malware from Your Computer

Thirdly, you should have antivirus software installed on your computer and download updates frequently to ensure that your software has the latest fixes for new viruses, worms, Trojans, and bots.

Fourthly, make sure that your antivirus program can scan e-mail and files as they are downloaded from the Internet. This will help prevent malicious programs from reaching your computer.

Fifthly, be sure to install a firewall on your computer and download updates frequently to help prevent unwanted access to and from your computer. You can even consider using a separate router connected between your modem and computer which has its own firewall protection.

Finally, I highly suggest that you try both of the malware detection software listed below. I tried ten different anti-malware programs on my laptop and was literally shocked to find all of the malware missed by my Norton 360 anti-virus software and firewall.


Recommended Anti-Malware Software:

During my research, I learned that there are a vast number of anti-malware programs available which widely vary in their effectiveness in finding all types of malware, the level of knowledge users must have in their OS and installed programs, and the risk of damaging your OS or legitimate programs installed on your computer. Out of the anti-malware programs I researched and the ten I actually tried, Exterminate It! and SuperAntiSpyware fit my criteria best as being very effective in detecting all types of malware, requiring minimal knowledge computers to operate, and having a minimal chance of harming your computer.

I also learned that no single anti-virus, firewall, or anti-malware program can detect all malware on your computer. Therefore, I am continuing to use my Norton 360 anti-spyware and firewall software along with installing both of Exterminate It! and SuperAntiSpyware. I feel that this gives me maximum security at a rather nominal cost considering the cost of having my financial and personal information stolen by a hacker. In fact, I like these anti-malware products so much, I now sell both as my first two products as a new affiliate marketer, which benefits you by me educating you to expose possible compromising of your sensitive financial and personal information, and I get a few bucks for doing so... a true win-win proposition.

Both Exterminate It! and SuperAntiSpyware allow you to scan your computer for free to see what malware is on it. You need to purchase a license to actually remove the identified malware with Exterminate It!. Conversely, SuperAntiSpyware allows you to remove the identified malware without purchasing a license. The difference between the two anti-malware programs, besides finding different malware at times, is that Exterminate It! only runs when you run a computer scan. The unlicensed (free) version of SuperAntiSpyware operates in the same manner, but the licensed version automatically scans your computer at preset times of the day and runs in the background to identify and prevent malware from being installed on your computer.


Solution #1 - Exterminate It!
Exterminate It! Malware Removal Software
Here is an actual screenshot of Exterminate it! in action finding malware.
Why Exterminate It!

Exterminate it! is a unique, powerful, state-of-the-art anti-malware solution for the comprehensive detection and removal of trojans, rootkits, spyware, adware, and other malware, capable of efficiently safeguarding your PC even against the most recent and previously unknown (undetected) threats!

Features:
  1. Easy to install and use;
  2. Straightforward and intuitive user interface;
  3. Exterminate rootkit, worms, trojans and other malware with just a couple of clicks;
  4. Run it only when you need to;
  5. Huge database of more than 500,000 malware definitions, with daily updates so you are protected against the latest emerging malware threats.
  6. "Submit State" feature allows you to submit information on suspicious programs not yet in the malware definition database for evaluation which gives real personalized protection for your computer.
  7. Fully compatible with other anti-virus and firewall software.
  8. Easy-to-use. Fast. Reliable.
  9. Download the product and receive your personal license electronically immediately after ordering!
Operating Systems: Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista (32-Bit & 64-Bit), Windows 7 (32-Bit & 64-Bit)
      

Solution #2 - SuperAntiSpyware
SuperAntiSpyware Malware Removal Software
Here is an actual screenshot of SuperAntiSpyware in action finding malware.
Why SuperAntiSpyware

SuperAntiSpyware provides advanced detection and removal of malware including trojans, worms, keyloggers, rootkits, adware, dialers, hijackers, parasites, rogue security products, and many other types of threats. It is light on computer system resources so as not to slow down your computer like many other anti-spyware products. SuperAntiSpyware is designed not to conflict with your existing anti-spyware or anti-virus solution. The unique repair system allows repairing of broken Internet connections, desktops, registry editing, and more!

Unlike many other anti-spyware software, SuperAntiSpyware provides real-time blocking of threats to prevent potentially harmful software from installing or re-installing on your computer. And first chance prevention examines over 50 critical points of your OS each time your computer starts up and shuts down to eliminate threats before they have a chance to infect and infiltrate your system. You can schedule quick, complete, or custom scans automatically conducted on a daily or weekly schedule at your preferred time of day to ensure your computer is free from malware.

Benefits and Features:
  1. Quick, complete, and custom scanning of hard drives, removable drives, memory, registry, individual folders and more. Includes trusting items and excluding folders for complete customization of scanning.
  2. Detects and removes spyware, adware, malware, trojans, dialers, worms, keyloggers, hijackers and many other types of threats.
  3. Repairs broken Internet connections, desktops, registry editing, task manager and more with our unique repair system! Spyware application often disable system components to prevent removal - SuperAntiSpyware resets and restores these items in seconds!
  4. *Real-time blocking of threats. Prevent potentially harmful software from installing or re-installing.
  5. *Schedule quick, complete, or custom scans daily or weekly to ensure your computer is free from harmful software.
  6. Quarantine items detected and removed for complete protection. Items in the quarantine may be restored to your computer if desired.
  7. Detailed scan logs with complete information about detected and removed threats and their locations within your computer. Scan logs allow you to review scheduled scan results at anytime.
Advanced Detection and Removal:
  1. Multi-Dimensional Scanning - Next generation scanning system that goes beyond the typical rules based scanning methods. A multi-dimensional scanning system detects existing threats as well as threats of the future by analyzing threat characteristics in addition to code patterns.
  2. First Chance Prevention - Examines over 50 critical points of your system each time your system starts up and shuts down to eliminate threats before they have a chance to infect and infiltrate your system.
  3. Process Interrogation Technology - Features the unique Process Interrogation Technology (PIT) that allows threats to be detected no matter where they are hiding on your system. Many new types of threats utilize "Rootkits" or "Kernel Drivers" to hide themselves to avoid detection by standard anti-spyware applications. SuperAntiSpyware's Process Interrogation Technology locates even the toughest of threats.
  4. *Dedicated Threat Research Team and Daily Updates - Features a dedicated threat research team that scours the web daily and analyzes thousands of possible threats to provide the most up to date protection available by providing daily definition updates.
* Denotes feature available only in SUPERAntiSpyware Professional Version

System Requirements: Windows 2000, XP, Media Center, Vista, Windows 2003 and Windows 7 and 400Mhz or faster processor with at least 256MB RAM

      
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