It’s not just through phishing techniques you may fall victim to identity theft or have your details stolen. In fact, by downloading certain files, you may unwittingly put malware onto your system, which will capture all usernames and passwords and steal other valuable information.

In this section we’ll aim to run you through how viruses and malware can attack your computer, as well as provide the best tips for avoiding problems.

Understanding viruses and malware

If you're going to counter the threat of an attack, the first step is to have a complete understanding of the risk itself. For those not in the know, they believe a virus and malware to be one and the same. The truth is though; malware is simply one form of a computer virus -€“ it just happens to be the most common.

• What is Malware?

Malware, like any other form of computer virus, is software written to harm your computer system, whilst having the ability to steal information and commit fraud. Other types of software that could attack your computer include Trojan horses, worms, spyware and adware.

• Common types of malware

Viruses: A virus will infect your PC once run and can even be spread to other computers. It’ll attack the PC’s software and dramatically reduce its operating speed.

Adware: Adware is designed to show adverts on your computer, which in turn can generate revenue for the creator. The malware tracks how you use the Internet and which sites you frequently visit. Not all Adware is malicious in nature, but it’s likely to reduce performance levels.

Spyware: As the name would suggest, spyware will track your usage, gather information and steal this for the creator’s fraudulent activities. Spyware is typically difficult to detect and you likely won’t be aware it’s in place.

Worms: This malware type is continually replicating itself and destroying your computer files and data.

Trojan Horse: Named after the famous Greek invasion, Trojan viruses disguise themselves to the user as safe-to-install. However, once run they’re able to steal personal data and can take full control of the system. For businesses, it can prevent your complete access to the network.

Ransomware: This advanced form of malware can take over your system and won’t release it until a fee has been paid. Therefore, it’s a type of blackmail. A well known version of ransomware is Cryptolocker.

Protecting yourself from online threats

Malware usually infects your computer system because you unwittingly installed it. What’s more, it can only affect your system when being run -€“ rather than shutdown or deleted from the PC.

Essentially, the chances are you’ll be conned into installing malware thinking it to be something else. Not only will fraudsters need a knowledge of coding therefore, but also the ability to persuade victims to download their malware. Unfortunately, even those who’ve never fallen for a malware scam before, can still make the mistake of downloading.

So, where will this malware file be? Sometimes it’ll be packaged in with other legitimate software. Other times, clicking on a fake link can start the downloading of malware - This could be from an email attachment, for example.

The good news is though, it’s not difficult to safeguard your PC and have that extra layer of cushioning, in the event of making a mistake and accidently downloading malware. Bear the following tips in mind.

1. Protect your computer and regularly update software

Most PCs and laptops have security holes, which need to be filled with antivirus software in order to provide a 360 safety net. If left unprotected, these security holes can be targeted by malware. Not only should you keep your system updated, whether it’s Microsoft or Apple, but also install an antivirus software.

2. Beware of attachments and pop-up messages

Modern browsers now have the ability to block pop-up windows, reducing the chances of falling for a scam. However, when accessing certain pages the pop-up will imitate Windows or Apple messages and be difficult to close down. You’ll have to force quit where necessary. If you ever notice software downloading on its own accord, ensure to cancel this and remove any foreign programs, before running a full antivirus scan.

Likewise, email providers have become a lot better at filtering messages to send spam to the junk box. Some may still find their way through to your usual inbox though. If you ever feel uncomfortable about the origin of an email, avoid opening the attachment.

3. Report spam emails

If you start to find your email clogged up with spam, don’t just ignore it and report the emails to your provider. Avoid unsubscribing as these have been known to on occasions spark a malware attack. Social media is also a common hunting ground for malware, so if you notice suspicious postings from friends, the chances are their account has been compromised. Let them know, so they’re able to take action.

4. Be careful when installing software

Malware needs to be downloaded by the user to have an effect on your computer -€“ so think twice before downloading new programs. Before downloading, Google the product and check it’s legitimate. This will certainly safeguard you from downloading known malware files.

5. Use your common sense

As with any walk of life, one of the crucial parts of keeping safe from malware is to simply use common sense. If you’ve an uneasy feeling about something, avoid downloading the file or clicking the link. Common sense should prevail.

The most common Internet scams

It seems the moment the Internet was born, scams became prevalent. The unfortunate fact is, millions of people have been affected over the years, becoming victims of fraud. For that very reason, criminals continue to create new malware and come up with novel ways to access PCs.

With that said, let’s take a look at five of the most common Internet scams.

The royalty email: Often known as the Nigerian Scam, this concept has changed over time and is nowadays rarely fallen for. Essentially, it’s one of those too good to be true offers, whereby the victim thinks they’ll be in receipt of a large sum of money. Typically, this will be in email form as a cry for help. By aiding (and providing your full details and bank account numbers), the sender promises to transfer cash as a thank you. The email will likely be from someone claiming to be regal, or a damsel in distress.

The bank account scam: Another email you may receive claims to be from your bank, or monetary service such as PayPal. They’ll say there has been unusual activity or your account will soon be locked - Unless logging in. The email link will likely take you through to a phishing website and by entering your details, you’re handing over the keys to your money.

Lucky iPhone winner: Or any other product to be precise. When browsing online, a pop-up could suggest you’re the 1,000,000 visitor and as such, entitled to receive a free iPhone. By entering your details, you’ll then have this shipped to your home. Of course, you’ll have to pay a processing fee -€“ Again, goodbye money.

Foreign lottery winnings: Can you believe your luck? You just checked your emails and you’ve won a foreign lottery based on your email address. Can’t remember entering? That’s because you didn’t! To receive the millions of pounds though you’ll need to submit your card details. Don’t expect your bank to fill up though. Instead, prepare for the opposite.

Malware infection: A crafty trick this one -€“ malware applications telling the user they’re already infected. This normally takes the shape of a pop-up and suggests you download the antivirus to remove the problem. The catch? You’re now downloading the malware.