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Boy put on coat by father; image used for HSBC Malaysia Understanding malware page.

Understanding malware

What’s the difference between viruses, Trojans and spyware?

Hackers will use many different techniques to invade your online privacy and potentially damage and steal your data. Three of the most common threats are viruses, Trojans and spyware.

  • Viruses are computer programmes that steal personal information, take over your PC, or pop up unwanted adverts. They can even use your computer to attack other people's computers.
  • A Trojan horse is a type of virus that is a computer programme masquerading as another programme. As the name suggests, the programme looks innocent, but opening it could damage or erase your files.
  • Spyware is software that monitors and records your internet behaviour without your knowledge or consent. Some spyware may even redirect your internet session through its own server, allowing criminals to potentially extract your personal credentials such as your username, password and credit card numbers.

How can you protect yourself against hackers?

  • To avoid Trojans, be very cautious when downloading files.
    Always make sure the files are from a reputable source. Never open an attachment and do not click embedded links in e-mails, SMS or social media from people you don’t know and trust.
  • Keep your software updated.
    Online criminals quickly find vulnerable areas in operating systems (most commonly Microsoft Windows) and other programmes (Adobe, Java, etc). Software manufacturers release regular updates that fix these security flaws.
  • Install firewalls and anti-virus software to counter viruses and spyware.
    Most computers come with personal firewalls – known as software firewalls – pre-installed. For additional security, you can download an additional stand-alone firewall, known as a hardware firewall. For anti-virus and anti-spyware software, there are many kinds available in the market. Always use a reputable brand and be mindful of fake products. 
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