I’ve Been Hacked!
No you haven’t. Yes, you read that right. You have never been hacked, or at least the likelihood that what you perceive as being hacked wasn’t really hacking at all. People that don’t know any better often claim they have been “hacked” out of embarrassment for using poor passwords, weak security question answers, or falling victim to phishing attempts. Sometimes it is just ignorance in general. They may also have been compromised as a result of easily guessed security questions. A hacker actively at a keyboard somewhere trying to break into your computer is more of a movie scenario than a real life occurrence. There isn’t anyone at a terminal actively exploiting the security of your home PC to get your information.
Web-servers get hacked and used to distribute malware at times, but nobody is going to waste their time hacking a personal computer or individual accounts. You were probably the victim of malware running that logs keystrokes or steals personal info. Most of what people think are live hacking attempts are just automated software attacks. Unless it is a government or corporate server it isn’t a valuable enough target to be worth all that trouble. It’s much easier to cast a wide net via automated software and just pull up everything that gets caught by it. Had your email, online game, or social network accounts compromised? That’s malware. Remove the malware from any and all devices you use and change your passwords.
It’s a Virus!
True computer viruses are rare. Very Rare. It may come as a surprise to you, but most people that think they have had a virus on their system haven’t. A virus is just a subset of malware, or one type of malware rather. Trojans, worms, and root-kits are all types of malware but not necessarily a virus. It is usually something designed to install to your computer and make it do things that you don’t want it to do, but isn’t usually a virus. A virus is malware that spreads by infecting existing files on your computer similar to the way a biological virus spreads by infecting living cells and it replicates. It is not hidden software that installs to a folder and does damage. It infects existing files. A virus may be a component of a larger malware program. When your antivirus detects cookies, adware, spyware, ransomware, and settings issues you don’t necessarily have a virus. The computer virus was the dominate form of malware in the 1980’s through 1990’s but that isn’t the case today. People have found much easier and efficient ways than viral infection to spread malicious software, hence the term malware.
Being Careful is Enough
There is always that one person that insists that they don’t need an antivirus for Microsoft Windows because they’re careful. There are even security experts out their that hold this silly notion. This may have been true in the late mid to late 1990‘s but it doesn’t apply today. It does not matter how careful you think you are, you can still need an antivirus on Microsoft Windows. People that subscribe to the “Being Careful is Enough” myth think that you only get malware by downloading suspicious files, running software that isn’t patched, visiting the wrong web-sites, or using Java or Flash in your web browser. While malware is spread in all these ways they aren’t the only way malware is spread.
Security vulnerabilities are found in web browsers and plug-ins all the time. New ones are often found faster than they can be patched. Hackers find them first and they are patched after they become known. There are even people that find these vulnerabilities and sell them to organized crime. Web servers are hacked and used to distribute malware that functions because of these vulnerabilities. That means the simple act of visiting a website can infect your computer. This can happen even if you only visit trusted sites. Your trusted sites could easily become the next target for an attack.
Being careful is still a must. All the steps that are mentioned above should be followed, but in a Microsoft Windows environment a real time antivirus package is a must. Keep in mind that an antivirus package wont catch everything but it is your last defense when simply being careful isn’t enough. If a hacked website tries to use a security flaw in your browser to install malware you need the protection of a real-time antivirus scanner. Most antivirus scanners include other types of malware these days, be sure to use one that does. There are several free options that score well on independent laboratory testing.
Some will argue that using an antivirus will slow down their computer. This used to be true with certain products but really is not the case today. I remember clearly remember my days as a tech removing McAfee and Norton products for customers because they seemed to have to have a worse effects than the malware. I replaced them with lower footprint products that didn’t slow the computer down as much. There is no need to worry about that any more. Computers are much faster and antivirus products are not bloated like they once were.