Malware is a generic term for many different computer threats, including viruses, spyware, or trojans. The term generally describes malicious software. Malware threats are very different than in the past, where it generally caused data loss or computer system slowdown. These days, malware is mainly engineered to steal your personal information or gain access or use of your system.

Any computer can be at risk, not just the Microsoft Windows operating system. All systems need protection from this threat.

Malware can be brought to a computer in many ways, but the most common ways are through email and webpages. Email from strangers with attachments or clickable links can install malware, or simply surfing the web to a page that hosts malware can cause this problem.

Tip: Associated will never ask you for your credit card information, PIN, or card security code to identify you. If you see this on what appears to be our webpage, cease using the affected computer and immediately report it to Customer Care ( or call 800-682-4989.

Some malware related terms:

Virus is a term for malicious software that infects digital files or computer processes. Viruses can spread from computer to computer, or can come from websites. Viruses have no good or useful components. They are developed to perform a task for its creator.

Spyware is a term for malicious software that is engineered to steal personal information or spy on your activities, but does not generally spread from computer to computer. This type of threat is sometimes brought into computers by being packaged with other useful software, “helper” applications, or web browser toolbars.

Trojans are named after the classic example of the Trojan Horse. A piece of software is packaged with a harmful, but hidden component, and is usually made attractive to you by promising that you are getting something useful. The victim voluntarily installs the software, and the hidden component comes along for the ride. Very often illegal, stolen software found online will contain this threat.

No matter what, malware is a serious threat. It can capture what you type (like login credentials), take screenshots of your computer’s activities, and even take control of your computer without your knowledge.

The most serious and financially impactful threat is called a "banking trojan". This type of malware can stay silent, and then selectively activate when online banking services are used. It can change how certain web sites look, especially online banking or financial sites. This type of malware may add screens that look as if the website is requesting personal information to validate you, or may impersonate a warning about the site being "unavailable". It can also steal everything you type or see on these pages. The most serious and financially impactful threat is called a "banking trojan". See an example of what banking trojans can do.

How to prevent malware:

  • Keep your computer up to date by applying software updates (patches) as soon as possible. Pay special attention to "plugins" like Flash, Java, and Acrobat Reader. You may have to apply updates to these items manually. Malware may use outdated versions of these plugins as a "gateway" to infect your computer.
  • Install and configure a quality software security suite, and keep it updated. Be sure that the product contains multiple protection methods, including anti-virus, anti-spyware, and web protection. Keep in mind that most products are subscriptions and need to be kept valid. While important, don’t rely on anti-virus security software as the sole protection for your computer.
  • Don’t ignore warnings from security software. Take the recommended actions (if offered).
  • Don’t log onto your computer as an "administrator". Many modern operating systems allow you to use your computer as a "limited" user, and selectively increase permissions as needed. This may prevent unwanted software from slipping in without your approval.
  • Consider using a dedicated computer for financial needs, and keep that computer up to date and secured. Don't use the dedicated computer for other Internet purposes, like email and casual web surfing.
  • Only install reputable, legal versions of software on your computer.
  • Don’t change computer or Internet browser settings to values that weaken security.

If your computer is infected with malware:

  • Cease using the affected computer for any sensitive purpose (like shopping or financial services)
  • Identify what passwords or information may have been used on the infected computer, and change your passwords from another, clean computer under your control (not from a shared computer, library, or coffee shop). Consider your financial, email, and shopping passwords as sensitive. Make sure you follow good password recommendations.
  • Backup your personal information (documents, pictures, music). This will keep your important information safe.
  • Obtain professional help from a reputable business who has experience in computer support and specializes in malware identification and removal.
  • For serious malware infections, consider wiping the computer and reloading it from original install disks. This method will remove data and programs from the computer, so only do this after you have backed up your personal data. This is the most reliable way of removing complex malware threats.
  • After the computer issues are remediated, focus on restoring your information and following the steps outlined in How to prevent malware. If you have reinstalled the computer’s operating system, make sure you fully update the computer before surfing the web.

To learn more about malware, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website Onguardonline.

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