Protecting Your Organization from Spyware, Viruses, and Other Malware (2023)

This article provides an overview of malware threats, suggestions for preventing infection using antivirus and anti-spyware software, and steps to take if you suspect your computer is infected.

Editor's note: This article was originally written by Zac Mutrux and updated by Elliot Harmon.


Computer security threats can make the Internet a dangerous place. If your nonprofit or library doesn't have tools to protect itself from malicious software (or "malware"), the Internet can pose a serious risk to your organization. Consider these facts:

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  • Symantec identified over 3 billion malware attacks worldwide in 2010
  • McAfee said the first quarter of 2011 was the busiest quarter ever for malware

Why does this happen so often? Stealing and selling personal information, banking and credit card details, and intellectual property is lucrative business. Malicious software can also hijack your computer to send spam messages, display advertisements, or perform other illegal activities.

Methods for infecting computers with malicious software are often quite sophisticated. Malicious software can spread through legitimate-looking files, links, or websites. Criminals can even buy inexpensive "attack toolkits," making cybercrime easy and inexpensive to commit.

It's important for nonprofits and libraries to understand these threats and learn how to protect themselves. This article provides an overview of malware threats, suggestions for preventing infection using antivirus and anti-spyware software, and steps to take if you suspect your computer is infected.

What Is Malware?

Malware is a combination of the words "malicious" and "software." It is often used as a catchall term for threats such as viruses, spyware, adware, and other software installed without a user's consent or knowledge.

Malware can get into your system in various ways, including (but by no means limited to)

  • Infected email attachments
  • Infected removable storage media like portable thumbnail drives
  • Downloaded software, including mobile apps
  • Links in email, social media websites, or instant messages

Some categories of malware are

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  • Viruses are a kind of self-replicating software that can slow down or cripple systems, and destroy or alter data.
  • Spyware is software that spies on computer users' activity to steal passwords, online banking credentials, and other personal information. A "keylogger" records what you type and sends it back to a cyberthief.
  • Adware displays annoying pop-up ads.
  • Scareware mimics a legitimate antivirus or anti-spyware service, saying a computer has been infected, then encouraging users to download (and pay for) a fake security solution. The downloaded software is usually spyware.
  • Botnets are networks of infected computers used for illegal activities, such as sending spam emails or "denial of service" attacks.

Which Organizations Need to Worry About Malware?

You may be wondering if your nonprofit or library needs to worry about malware. The answer is a resounding yes! It's not just big businesses or government organizations that need to protect themselves. Any organization of any size can be a victim of malware.

Think about it: Your constituents, volunteers, and donors entrust their personal information with you. If you're not taking steps to secure your data, including using antivirus and anti-spyware software, their information may not be safe. Information security breaches can have major legal and financial ramifications.

How Antivirus and Anti-Spyware Software Works

Both antivirus and anti-spyware software monitor your computer for potential threats. They can often automatically quarantine suspected malware before it damages your system. Usually, the program will notify you when it quarantines a potential threat. You can then delete the suspicious software.

Most antivirus and anti-spyware tools identify suspicious software based on a list of known threats, called "definitions." Definitions are updated when new threats appear, and usually you can download these updates automatically. Up-to-date definitions allow programs to recognize and stop new threats. Some antivirus and anti-spyware software can also recognize "malware-like" features to prevent infection by new, undocumented malware.

Preventing Infection with Antivirus and Anti-Spyware Software

To reiterate: Antivirus and anti-spyware software are basic tools that no organization can do without.

That doesn't mean, however, that more is always better. You don't need a lot of tools; you just need a few good ones. Installing too many antivirus or anti-spyware tools can actually slow your computer down.

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We recommend that you equip every computer in your organization with a comprehensive antivirus program and a separate anti-spyware program.

The tools you choose will depend in part on the size of your organization.

  • Very small organizations with only a few computers: Install individual antivirus and anti-spyware software on every computer.
  • Organizations with 10-20 computers: Consider using a security suite. A suite allows you to administer software centrally, rather than dealing with each computer separately.
  • Organizations with more than 20 computers: Consider enterprise-level tools. Enterprise-level tools also allow centralized administration of definition updates and other tasks, as well as providing additional security tools appropriate for bigger organizations.

Suggested Antivirus and Anti-Spyware Software

There are many low-cost or free options available.

  • Norton Security and Norton Small Business are virus and spyware solutions available as a TechSoup donation.
  • Bitdefender Internet Security is a leading virus and spyware solution available as a TechSoup donation.
  • Microsoft Security Essentials is a free antivirus and anti-malware download for Windows users, most suitable for a small office.
  • McAfee and Kaspersky Labs also provide good, reasonably priced antivirus solutions, and both offer special pricing for nonprofit organizations.

Using a separate anti-spyware tool will help protect against a broader range of threats. Each company maintains its own threat list, and no company's list is complete. MalwareBytes is a good free tool.

As with any software decision, you should do your research beforehand. The Additional Resources can help you find more information.

What to Do if You Suspect Infection

There is no guaranteed way to keep malware out. Installing and using antivirus and anti-spyware software is a good start. But what does it look like when these tools fail? And what can you do about it?

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The following might indicate your computer is infected with malware.

  • Lots of pop-up windows or unexpected messages on-screen
  • Unexpected toolbars appear in your web browser
  • New icons or programs appear on your computer
  • Your web browser home page changes or you are redirected unexpectedly to unknown websites
  • Your computer suddenly seems slow, freezes, or crashes during basic tasks

If you suspect infection, you should

  • Download the most recent definitions for your antivirus and anti-spyware software
  • Run a full scan using both tools (this will usually be much more in-depth and will take longer than the regular monitoring scans)
  • Follow the software's instructions to remove suspected malware
  • Reboot your computer, if necessary

If removing malware this way doesn't work, or if the malware returns when you reboot your computer, you should seek professional help.


No organization can do without antivirus and anti-spyware software. New threats are emerging all the time, so you should always download up-to-date definitions from your software provider. While nothing is a guarantee against infection, antivirus and anti-spyware software can go a long way towards helping protect your organization.

Finally, using antivirus and anti-spyware software is only part of a comprehensive security plan. The additional resources listed below can help you dig deeper.

Additional Resources

This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.

(Video) 7 steps to protect your pc from malware and viruses


How can we protect from viruses and other malware? ›

Use an anti-malware app - Installing an anti-malware app and keeping it up to date can help defend your PC against viruses and other malware (malicious software). Microsoft Defender is free anti-malware software included with Windows, and it's kept updated automatically through Windows Update.

What is the best protection against malware and spyware? ›

  • Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. Best for Wealth of Bonus Features. ...
  • Avast One Essential. Best for Comprehensive Free Security. ...
  • Bitdefender Total Security. Best for Unusual Bonus Features. ...
  • Norton 360 Deluxe. ...
  • Norton 360 With LifeLock Select. ...
  • Webroot AntiVirus. ...
  • Check Point ZoneAlarm Anti-Ransomware. ...
  • Malwarebytes Free.

How can organizations protect themselves from malware? ›

Utilize Encryption Software

So, to protect your business from malware, be sure to encrypt all of your business' data, as well as store a backup copy of all of your data in several hard drives or locations. This ensures that even in the event of an emergency, your data will not be exploited or be permanently lost.

What are the 3 methods for protecting your device from malware? ›

How to prevent malware
  • Keep your computer and software updated. ...
  • Use a non-administrator account whenever possible. ...
  • Think twice before clicking links or downloading anything. ...
  • Be careful about opening email attachments or images. ...
  • Don't trust pop-up windows that ask you to download software. ...
  • Limit your file-sharing.

What methods should be used to protect data from viruses? ›

Install anti-spyware and anti-malware programs

Many of these programs are free and prevent viruses from doing any damage on your computer. They require continuous running and updating but when used correctly, they serve their purpose.

What is the best method to avoid spyware? ›

How to Protect Yourself from Spyware
  • Be cautious about consenting to cookies. ...
  • Install an anti-tracking browser extension. ...
  • Keep all software updated with the latest security. ...
  • Remember that “free” software always has a cost.

What are the most common ways to anti spyware? ›

How to Prevent Spyware
  • Deploy anti-malware software.
  • Ensure all operating and security solutions are updated regularly.
  • Train employees to spot and avoid suspicious emails and pop-ups, and be wary of any attachments from unknown sources.
Mar 31, 2022

What is spyware and how do you protect against it? ›

Spyware is malware that tracks your internet activity to gather sensitive information like credit card numbers. To protect yourself, use anti-spy software, avoid pop-ups, update your system, and watch your email.

What should an organization use to protect their computers against virus? ›

Install anti-virus software

Anti-virus software actively scans for viruses trying to invade your email, system files, or operating system. Choose a quality software package, keeping in mind the reputation of the company and product, features of the software (e.g., daily updates), and compatibility with your computer.

Why do organizations need a malware protection software? ›

Without anti-malware, hackers can steal credentials, swipe secrets, and compromise customers' identities. Yet having an anti-malware solution in place can prevent and safeguard sensitive information (both your business' and your clients') from exposure to cybercriminals.

How can companies protect their computers from computer viruses? ›

Antivirus software protects your device from viruses that can destroy your data, slow down or crash your device, or allow spammers to send email through your account. Antivirus protection scans your files and your incoming email for viruses, and then deletes anything malicious.

What is the best form of anti-malware protection? ›

Best Malware Scanning: Malwarebytes
  • Our Top Picks.
  • McAfee Antivirus Plus.
  • Bitdefender Antivirus Plus.
  • Norton 360 With LifeLock.
  • Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security.
  • Webroot SecureAnywhere.
  • Malwarebytes.
  • See More (3)

What are the 4 main types of malware? ›

As part of an organization's security and data protection program, it should have a plan in place that, at minimum, mitigates risk to systems and networks arising from four common types of malicious software: trojans, spyware, viruses, and ransomware.

What are the 3 most common types of malware? ›

Malware comes in many forms but the most common types are: Viruses. Keyloggers. Worms.

What are 4 ways to prevent viruses? ›

In those situations, use as many prevention strategies as you can, such as practicing hand hygiene, consistently and correctly wearing a high-quality mask, improving ventilation, and keeping your distance, when possible, from the person who is sick or who tested positive.

What is the best method to protect data? ›

In this article, we will detail the top 5 methods of protecting data.
  • Encryption. Encryption is a fundamental component for protecting personal data. ...
  • Backup and Recovery. ...
  • Access Control. ...
  • Network Security. ...
  • Physical Security.

What are the three ways to protect data? ›

Here are some practical steps you can take today to tighten up your data security.
  • Back up your data. ...
  • Use strong passwords. ...
  • Take care when working remotely. ...
  • Be wary of suspicious emails. ...
  • Install anti-virus and malware protection. ...
  • Don't leave paperwork or laptops unattended. ...
  • Make sure your Wi-Fi is secure.
Aug 8, 2022

What type of malware prevention is most effective against known viruses? ›

Malwarebytes – The most effective and widely-adopted anti-malware on the market. The scans are thorough and the program prevents you from executing malicious files and visiting malicious websites.

How do I clean up spyware and viruses? ›

How to remove malware such as a virus, spyware, or rogue security software
  1. Install the latest updates from Microsoft Update. ...
  2. Use the free Microsoft Safety Scanner. ...
  3. Use the Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool. ...
  4. Manually remove the rogue security software. ...
  5. Run Microsoft Defender Offline.

What are the two basic ways of removing spyware? ›

There are two main options for removing spyware: removing it manually, or using a dedicated spyware removal tool. You'll generally find it much easier to use a spyware-removal software tool to delete spyware.

How do you detect and remove virus spyware? ›

How to remove spyware from Android
  1. Download and install Avast One. INSTALL FREE AVAST ONE. Get it for PC, Mac, iOS. ...
  2. Run an antivirus scan (Smart Scan) to detect spyware or any other forms of malware and viruses.
  3. Follow the instructions from the app to remove the spyware and any other threats that may be lurking.
Aug 5, 2020

What are the examples of anti-spyware? ›

Top 10 Anti-spyware in 2022
  • Avira. Overview: Avira is a German-made program with over 500 million users currently. ...
  • Bitdefender. ...
  • Kaspersky. ...
  • McAfee. ...
  • Norton. ...
  • Panda. ...
  • Spybot. ...
  • SpywareBlaster.
May 6, 2022

What are common examples of spyware? ›

Overview. Spyware is mostly classified into four types: adware, system monitors, tracking including web tracking, and trojans; examples of other notorious types include digital rights management capabilities that "phone home", keyloggers, rootkits, and web beacons.

What are the three types of spyware? ›

The main types are:
  • Keyloggers: This is one of the most dangerous types. A keylogger records the user's keystrokes on their computer. ...
  • Adware: This is the most common type. ...
  • Infostealers: Just like the keylogger, this type operates without the user realizing that it is collecting and sending information from the computer.

Can you block spyware? ›

Antivirus apps can help stop malicious apps, code, and spyware from wreaking havoc on your phone and stealing your data. Just like on a computer, installing a robust piece of antivirus software can keep your Android device safe from intruders and hackers.

What are the main things a good virus protection program should do? ›

That's why it is important to know which abilities should a good antivirus program have and why.
  • Static and dynamic scan of all pages. ...
  • Up to date database and actual signatures. ...
  • Uploaded file scan. ...
  • Detecting malicious content from dangerous websites. ...
  • Blacklist check. ...
  • Spam content and external links detection.

Why is IT important for organizations to secure their business software? ›

Reduce the risk of data breaches and attacks in IT systems. Apply security controls to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information. Prevent disruption of services, e.g., denial-of-service attacks. Protect IT systems and networks from exploitation by outsiders.

How does malware affect an organization? ›

Malware seriously threatens businesses because it can cause data loss, decreased productivity, and financial losses. Cybercriminals also use malware to launch cyber-attacks against companies, allowing attackers to access confidential data and cause reputational damage.

Why do organizations need information security? ›

Why is Information Security so important? Weak data security can lead to key information being lost or stolen, create a poor experience for customers and reputational harm. Data breaches, fraud, and cyber-security attacks are all becoming more common as people become more reliant on technology.

Which is a best practice that can prevent viruses and other malicious code from being downloaded when checking your email? ›

Using antivirus software is the best way to defend your computer against malicious code.

Can antivirus software and anti-malware completely protect your organization's systems? ›

Antivirus software can protect businesses from many malicious attacks, including viruses, worms, Trojans and ransomware. However, antivirus software alone isn't enough to secure your devices from hackers and provide comprehensive protection.

How do I secure my company computer? ›

  1. Keep your software up-to-date. ...
  2. Back up your files. ...
  3. Use strong passwords. ...
  4. Turn on two-factor authentication. ...
  5. Don't leave your laptop, phone or other devices unattended in public, even locked in a car. ...
  6. Password protect all your devices. ...
  7. Protect account information.
Apr 26, 2017

What can protect from malware? ›

Install and use anti-malware software

One of the best ways to protect yourself from malware is to download anti-malware software. Anti-malware software provides an extra layer of security when you download something. You can be set up the software to run automatically so that files are scanned as they are downloaded.

What is your best protection against malware is to use the current version of? ›

The best way to guard against malware is to install antivirus software, such as Bitdefender, Norton, or Kaspersky.

What is spyware and how do you prevent it? ›

Spyware is malware that tracks your internet activity to gather sensitive information like credit card numbers. To protect yourself, use anti-spy software, avoid pop-ups, update your system, and watch your email.

Why is malware protection important? ›

Protecting against a broad range of malware (including computer viruses, worms, spyware, botnet software and ransomware) and including options for virus removal will protect your computer, your privacy and your important documents from attack.

What are the most common methods used for malware attacks? ›

Phishing Emails

By far the most common method for hackers and state-sponsored hacking organizations to spread malware is through phishing emails. Hackers have become incredibly skilled at crafting emails that trick employees into clicking on links or downloading a file that contains malicious code.

What is the most reliable way to remove malware from your computer? ›

Removing a virus from a PC
  • Download and install antivirus software. ...
  • Run a virus scan. ...
  • Delete or quarantine infected files. ...
  • Restart your computer. ...
  • More virus removal options. ...
  • Install the latest macOS update. ...
  • Use a specialized Mac antivirus tool. ...
  • Uninstall suspicious apps.
Dec 22, 2022

Which software can be used to protect a computer from all types of malware *? ›

Malwarebytes – The most effective and widely-adopted anti-malware on the market. The scans are thorough and the program prevents you from executing malicious files and visiting malicious websites.


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