What is it?

Malware, short for MALicious softWARE, is software designed to infiltrate or damage a computer system without the owner's informed consent. The expression is a general term used by computer professionals to mean a variety of forms of hostile, intrusive, or annoying software or program code.

Along with viruses, one of the biggest threats to computer users on the Internet today is malware. Many computer users are unfamiliar with the term, and often use "computer virus" for all types of malware, including true viruses. Malware can hijack your browser, redirect your search attempts, serve up nasty pop-up ads, track what web sites you visit, and generally screw things up. Malware programs are usually poorly-programmed and can cause your computer to become unbearably slow and unstable in addition to all the other havoc they wreak.

Many of them will reinstall themselves even after you think you have removed them, or hide themselves deep within Windows, making them very difficult to clean.

Software is considered malware based on the perceived intent of the creator rather than any particular features. Malware includes computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, most rootkits, spyware, dishonest adware, crimeware and other malicious and unwanted software. In law, malware is sometimes known as a computer contaminant.

Malware is not the same as defective software, that is, software which has a legitimate purpose but contains harmful bugs.

How does malware get on my computer?

You can get infected by malware in several ways. Malware often comes bundled with other programs (Kazaa, iMesh, and other file sharing programs seem to be the biggest bundlers). These malware programs usually pop-up ads, sending revenue from the ads to the program's authors. Others are installed from websites, pretending to be software needed to view the website. Still others, most notably some of the CoolWebSearch variants, install themselves through holes in Internet Explorer like a virus would, requiring you to do nothing but visit the wrong web page to get infected.

The vast majority, however, must be installed by the user. Unfortunately, getting infected with malware is usually much easier than getting rid of it, and once you get malware on your computer it tends to multiply.

How should I fix it?

There are a lot of different programs that claim to clean up malware from your computer. ITNS is reviewing the best options for providing malware prevention. A lot of these programs are either difficult to understand and use or they are actually malicious programs as well. In order to avoid creating additional problems, should you suspect that malware is installed on your computer, please have ITNS clean the malware off for you by submitting a help request.