Malware is a broad term used to describe a wide variety of different types of software. These could be viruses, trojans, scareware, ransomware, spyware, worms or other vulnerabilities.
The specifics of what they're called isn't as important as what they can do to your computer or computers.
Some types of malware are relatively harmless, while others can lock you out of your own computer, leaving you unable to use it until you pay a ransom.
There is malware that takes over the home page of your browser, malware that displays ads on your computer, and malware that steals your credit card details.
Some are very easy to remove, while others are next to impossible to fully get rid of.
What they all have in common is that the system's owners and users don't want them on their systems!
The good news is that there are many options for Malware protection.
But Malware is a moving target. The people profiting from Malware are playing an endless game of cat and mouse with the anti-virus and anti-malware companies. So every time a new variation of Malware is released, it takes time for your security software and systems to catch up and protect you.
The following is a prioritised list of steps to protect yourself from Malware.
This is by far the safest way to protect your data, and it's never been easier or cheaper to do so.
Don't rely on local backup drives for this purpose, as some types of malware will infect these files too. Your local backups can then also be infected, rendering them useless.
It's also a good idea to use SyncBack's versioning to keep different versions of your backed-up data. If your backups are compromised, you'll at least be able to easily restore versions of these files before they became infected.
Install all security updates as soon as they become available, and if relevant allow your computer to apply security updates automatically. Many modern web browsers will keep themselves up to date automatically, but you may need to check that these options are enabled.
It's also worth pointing out that many types of malware are spread by user action, as opposed to vulnerabilities in their systems. Be very careful when opening attachments, clicking pop-up windows or even error messages that appear to come from your browser or system. If in doubt do not click.
The best-known solution is Malwarebytes, that has free and paid versions both for PCs and Macs. The main advantage of the paid version is that it gives you live protection of your system, instead of only being active when you are running a scan.
HitmanPro is Windows-only malware protection that also has an optional ransomware add-on. The software is available as a free "on-demand" version, and a paid version that offers more robust real-time protection.
WinAntiRansom describes itself as being "everything you need to be safe from ransomware". Obviously it focuses almost exclusively on ransomware protection, and there is no free version available. But pricing is extremely reasonable, and it seems to work well with the other solutions at the same time.
Microsoft also have useful resources on how to protect yourself from malware.
Malware never stops evolving and adapting. The malware creators constantly launch new versions, for the brief windows of opportunity that their creations can spread.
Having a robust set of security tools is of course essential, but can only protect you from threats or threat types that are already known.
In other words it doesn't matter how up to date your system, software, security software and even router are, if you come across a previously unknown type of malware.
You can only go so far in protecting your system, but if you backup different versions of your data to the cloud, then irrespective of what happens on your PC, backup copies of your data will always survive.
More information: Ransomware - how to protect yourself.