Not all malware produces instances of horrendous harm. Some of it is simply a nuisance, in delivering unwanted content and add-ons – such as toolbars, or unwanted and even embarrassing content in the “real estate” dedicated to rotating ads on certain sites.
Spyware can rake a system for sensitive information, sending it back to the malware’s originator. This can inhibit system performance, and hence productivity, as the malware overtakes processing power, memory, possibly even storage, and bandwidth in surveying and shoveling information to those seeking it. Recognize too that there is yet peril here for other harm beyond nuisance: Identifying-information makes identity theft a potential, and in the case of organizations, sensitive business info can be ripped off and exploited: Business reputation is not easily recovered in many of these circumstances, and even when it is, it is of course a nuisance in the extreme to make that recovery.
Often times, malware is really nefarious in its nuisance-ness: There is nothing more discomfiting that not knowing exactly what is going on. A business colleague reported that his laptop had suffered an extreme degradation in performance: Looooong boot-up times [his routine became: 1) Start laptop, 2) Make and wait on a pot of coffee]; longer than usual sign-in time; then subsequent drive grinding. Launch of applications took about four times longer than usual, but this subsided after he’d been booted and logged on for 5 minutes or so – then performance was normal. The only other sign that something might be amiss, was a pop-up box that appeared for less than half a second – its appearance was so quick, in the center of the desktop, that you couldn’t read the title bar, but were able to see, or sense, an “OK” and a “Cancel” button – it disappeared to quickly to act on it.
He ran several utilities, but nothing seemed to help. Until: An update to his Norton utilities and a full-system sweep removed whatever it was – fortunately, after a few weeks’ hassle, he didn’t notice any ID theft or collateral systems’ breaches, such as the draining of bank accounts, PayPal, etc.
Keep all of your protections up-to-date. It bears repeating: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Next up: Controlling-malware