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These are malicious programs which you can pick up via email, an infected external storage device, downloads, or DVD.  These programs can deliberately damage your system files, data files, or possibly the hardware, or they may steal your data.

There are some Trojans and Spyware circulating which display a very convincing window advising you that your computer is infected.  Some of these screens look very much like they are being presented to you by the Windows operating system - but they are not.  They may say they can fix the problem, but as you progress you will discover that they want a payment and your card details - Do not give your card details.  In some instances these programs can also do additional damage to your computer if you close them down using the red "X" at the top of the window, or the close, or cancel button in the window itself.  The safest way  to close these windows is probably using task manager on your computer "CTRL+ALT+DEL".

They tend to be self propagating and may be sent to anyone that you communicate with on your computer.

Viruses can be particularly difficult to remove in some cases and the safest solution maybe to restore your computer to its original state i.e. as it was when you first purchased it.

Protection against viruses and Trojans is available and it is important that you install anti virus software and a firewall.  These days many of the virus protection options also include protection against Spyware (software designed to snoop on what you do on your computer and send that information back to the source).  Please note tha Windows 8 and Windows 10 comes with its own protection.  If you buy a new computer with a third party virus protection this may only last 30-60 days before it wants you to subscribe at a cost. Virus software companies have done deals with manufacturers to include their software.  In many cases this is an unnecessary additional cost.

Spyware includes programs which capture and send keystrokes back to the source and this may include sign on and password details relating to Internet banking, or other sensitive system information.

If you are working in an office environment, it is also be possible that someone may install a key logger on the back of your computer, in this case it is a hardware device (a physical component).  The device would be plugged into your computer between your keyboard and computer and records key strokes.  The device can be removed sometime later and the contents downloaded and this will potentially reveal passwords and other sensitive information.  This sort of problem should not be one that you would expect to encounter in a home.

Websites which offer free software are often responsible for installing a little more than you were expecting and can result in your web browser being hijacked.  Search conduit, Mindspark and search protect are programs we often have to deal with for customers.

Virus/Trojans/Spyware/key loggers

Ransomware

These are particularly nasty virus produced by people which you would have to describe as evil.  Once you have been targeted and triggered the virus, it starts to encrypt files on your computer.  You will then not be able to access these files and the originator of the virus will display a message to the effect that they will give you a code to unlock the files in return for a payment.  

Under no circumstances should you pay a ransom, as there is no guarantee that you will regain access to your files. Software is beginning to be marketed which claims to protect from this form of attack.

Your best line of defence is to backup regularly and unplug your backup from the computer, or use cloud storage such as Onedrive.

You need to be careful about opening emails from people you do not know.