Avoid Malware Attacks

What Is Malware?

"Malware" is short for "malicious software." This is a generic term for software designed to disrupt operations, gather information without permission or knowledge, gain unauthorized access to system resources, and engage in other abusive or damaging behavior. Malware includes viruses, spyware, and other types of harmful software.

Why Should You Care about Malware?

Computer viruses and other malware can:

  • Provide hackers access to your computer.
  • Monitor your computer activity, web habits, and even your keystrokes and transmit this information without your knowledge.
  • Lead to identity theft.
  • Delete files, format disks, lock you out of your computer, or affect your computer's general performance.

What Should You Do to Prevent Malware Attacks?

Per UC Santa Cruz policy, all laptop and desktop computers connected to UCSC's network are required to run current, up-to-date software to detect viruses, spyware, and other malicious software. To ensure that you meet this requirement:

  • Install anti-malware software on your computer and set it to auto-update as frequently as the settings will allow. See the Free Anti-Malware Software section below for free options available to UCSC faculty, staff, and students.
  • Double-check periodically to see if your anti-virus/anti-malware software is up-to-date by opening the program and checking the "Last updated" date.
  • Contact the ITS Support Center for assistance if you get an anti-virus alert that there is malware on your computer.

Some additional actions you can take to prevent Malware attacks are:

  • Delete spam and suspicious emails and texts without opening or activating any attached files or links. Go to Avoiding Phishing Emails to learn more about suspicious emails.
  • Don't click on ads or pop-ups offering anti-virus software or warning you that your computer is infected. These are scams and can infect your computer or cause other harm.
  • Update your computer and applications as soon as updates are available.
  • Don't download or install unknown software or software from an unknown source. Even if it is "free," you may get more than you realized (e.g., spyware, adware, etc).
  • Back up your important data and mobile devices, and store the backups in a safe place.

Free Anti-Malware Software

The following free anti-malware software options are available for faculty, staff, and students of UCSC:

  • SentinelOne Anti-Malware is available at no cost to all faculty and staff for use on university-owned computers.
  • Windows Defender is built into Windows 10 and 11 and provides anti-malware protection.
  • Ad-Aware anti-spyware is free for use on non-university-owned Windows PCs.
  • For more free software options for personally owned computers, go to Student Software.

Email Filtering

UCSC's email benefits from Google's anti-malware filtering, which identifies and removes many harmful email messages. However, no filtering system can catch everything. Follow the guidance above, and always be cautious when opening attachments or clicking on links. For more information on how to deal with phishing messages see Avoiding Phishing Emails.

Get Help

Contact the ITS Support Center if you would like your computer configured to meet these requirements or if you need assistance with an anti-virus alert. If you have questions, contact the Support Center or your ITS Divisional Liaison

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