What's the worst that could happen if your computer gets infected by malware? Different viruses do different things, so the impact depends on which virus your computer catches. Some viruses try to steal your identity, some hold you hostage and some turn your PC into a bot.
Malware Takes Over Your Computer
Some malware makes your computer part of a botnet. Botnets are large collections, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of computers that hackers control remotely. Hackers use botnets to distribute malware to PCs, but they're used in other ways too. They are often used for distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that can bring down a website or other computer service by bombarding it with more requests than it can handle.
Another way it takes over your computer is by using it to send spam emails. It's bad enough when it simply spams your email contacts, but if it makes your computer part of a botnet, it can send emails to addresses you don't even know.
If you have this kind running, you might notice your PC seems slow because it's busy doing work for the botnet instead of doing the things you want it to do.
Learn more about the top-rated antivirus solutions for malware protection.
Malware Takes Over Your Data
If a botnet doesn't slow your computer down too much, you might not even notice it. However, if it is ransomware, you'll notice. This encrypts your data and holds it hostage until you pay a ransom to decrypt it. The malware may increase the ransom if you delay paying, or it may threaten to destroy your files completely. Ransomware is growing, and no wonder - the group behind one ransomware attack made $3 million before authorities shut it down. Fortunately, if you make regular backups of your files, you can restore them to the last good backup version without paying the ransom.
Malware Takes Over Your Identity
The most dangerous kind of malware steals your identity, such as your credit card numbers or login credentials at your online bank, can lead to large financial losses.
Malware gets your information in several ways. Some malware installs a keylogger onto your computer to capture every single keystroke you type. It then sends this information to the hackers' systems, and they search the files to find the data you used to log into financial websites.
Phishing emails can look like legitimate emails from financial institutions or shopping sites, but when you click the link, you end up at a site that looks real but lets the hacker capture the information you type into the login fields.
Another kind of malware can send you to a fake site even if you type the website's name into your browser, without clicking on a link in a suspicious email. Your computer needs to use a DNS service to look up the internet address for the website, and some malware changes settings, switching you from using your ISP's DNS servers to DNS servers operated by criminals. When your computer gets address information from a rogue DNS server, you end up at a site where criminals can capture your credentials.
Antivirus Software Keeps PCs Safe
The best way to avoid these kinds of problems is to practice safe computing. Don't click on unknown links, don't download unknown applications, and use antivirus software to check your computer for viruses and other dangerous software. Compare antivirus software features and choose the right software for your PC.