Editor's note: This article was originally written by Zac Mutrux and updated by Elliot Harmon.
Computer security threats can make the Internet a dangerous place. If your nonprofit or library doesn't have tools to protect itself from malicious software (or "malware"), the Internet can pose a serious risk to your organization. Consider these facts:
Why does this happen so often? Stealing and selling personal information, banking and credit card details, and intellectual property is lucrative business. Malicious software can also hijack your computer to send spam messages, display advertisements, or perform other illegal activities.
Methods for infecting computers with malicious software are often quite sophisticated. Malicious software can spread through legitimate-looking files, links, or websites. Criminals can even buy inexpensive "attack toolkits," making cybercrime easy and inexpensive to commit.
It's important for nonprofits and libraries to understand these threats and learn how to protect themselves. This article provides an overview of malware threats, suggestions for preventing infection using antivirus and anti-spyware software, and steps to take if you suspect your computer is infected.
Malware is a combination of the words "malicious" and "software." It is often used as a catchall term for threats such as viruses, spyware, adware, and other software installed without a user's consent or knowledge.
Malware can get into your system in various ways, including (but by no means limited to):
Some categories of malware are:
You may be wondering if your nonprofit or library needs to worry about malware. The answer is a resounding yes! It's not just big businesses or government organizations that need to protect themselves. Any organization of any size can be a victim of malware.
Think about it: Your constituents, volunteers, and donors entrust their personal information with you. If you're not taking steps to secure your data, including using antivirus and anti-spyware software, their information may not be safe. Information security breaches can have major legal and financial ramifications.
Both antivirus and anti-spyware software monitor your computer for potential threats. They can often automatically quarantine suspected malware before it damages your system. Usually, the program will notify you when it quarantines a potential threat. You can then delete the suspicious software.
Most antivirus and anti-spyware tools identify suspicious software based on a list of known threats, called "definitions." Definitions are updated when new threats appear, and usually you can download these updates automatically. Up-to-date definitions allow programs to recognize and stop new threats. Some antivirus and anti-spyware software can also recognize "malware-like" features to prevent infection by new, undocumented malware.
To reiterate: Antivirus and anti-spyware software are basic tools that no organization can do without.
That doesn't mean, however, that more is always better. You don't need a lot of tools; you just need a few good ones. Installing too many antivirus or anti-spyware tools can actually slow your computer down.
We recommend that you equip every computer in your organization with a comprehensive antivirus program and a separate anti-spyware program.
The tools you choose will depend in part on the size of your organization:
There are many low-cost or free options available:
Using a separate anti-spyware tool will help protect against a broader range of threats. Each company maintains its own threat list, and no company's list is complete. MalwareBytes is a good free tool.
As with any software decision, you should do your research beforehand. The Additional Resources can help you find more information.
There is no guaranteed way to keep malware out. Installing and using antivirus and anti-spyware software is a good start. But what does it look like when these tools fail? And what can you do about it?
The following might indicate your computer is infected with malware:
If you suspect infection, you should:
If removing malware this way doesn't work, or if the malware returns when you reboot your computer, you should seek professional help.
No organization can do without antivirus and anti-spyware software. New threats are emerging all the time, so you should always download up-to-date definitions from your software provider. While nothing is a guarantee against infection, antivirus and anti-spyware software can go a long way towards helping protect your organization.
Finally, using antivirus and anti-spyware software is only part of a comprehensive security plan. The additional resources listed below can help you dig deeper.
Image: Spyware, Shutterstock
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