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Originally published Friday, June 21, 2013 at 6:44 PM

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A primer in malware: viruses, spyware and bots, oh my

Special to The Seattle Times

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so...the USGov't/NSA is what? malware or virus??? MORE

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Q. You frequently mention malware and viruses in your column. Just what is malware? Is it created intentionally or is the accidental result of some defective program? If intentional, who creates it, and why? What are the effects of malware on the typical computer? Same questions about viruses.

— Scott Smouse

A. Malware is any software that intentionally does things you don’t want done to your computer. A virus is, therefore, a type of malware.

A virus is a little program that is released, usually surreptitiously, when you launch an infected program or email, or run a script that launches the virus. The virus can do pretty much whatever the lowlife who designed it wants it to do, from reformatting your hard drive to stealing information.

Worms are like viruses — in fact, I consider them to be a type of virus — but they don’t require the user to launch anything in order to infect a computer. Worms spread through vulnerabilities in network services.

Similarly, Trojan horses are viruses hidden within a supposedly harmless application.

Viruses can also be defined by the types of threats they pose. Spyware, for example, doesn’t harm your computer, but it does steal information such as passwords, contacts or financial data.

Adware is a type of malware that pops up unwanted advertisements.

Bots make it so that your computer can, without your knowledge, be used by others, most often for spam operations.

Ransomware is among the most brazen of the bunch. If you get a piece of ransomware, it will hold your system — or perhaps just some important data — hostage until you pay the perpetrator.

People create malware to steal, to advertise, to spam. In my view, the hardest to understand are those who write destructive viruses. They seem to be out to impress others with how clever they are.

And, yes, sometimes bad things happen as the result of poor programming. Those things are simply called “bugs,” though they can be just as harmful as viruses.

Q. I recently downloaded a report that is in PDF format. I went to copy some of the text to a Word document, but found that the copy command isn’t available. I looked at the document’s security found that, among other things, copying was disabled.

I’m not looking to plagiarize. I intend to cite the report. Is there a way to copy the text without having to retype every passage I want?

— B. Campbell

A. PDF security is generally not very strong. Just search the Internet and within a few minutes you should be able to find a tool — usually free — that will crack whatever protection is getting in your way. For making it possible to copy text, I found PDFCrack! at www.pdfcrack.com.

Q. I have Windows XP and would like to speed up the startup time. I am using an updated Norton 360 and the free Malwarebytes program, which I am trying out for the first time. I run the MSCONFIG program and see that all of the programs are checked to run in the startup file and they number about 26.

I would like to run only those that are necessary for my general use, which normally consists of the Microsoft Office suite and a few others, such as virus checkers, etc.

How do I know which programs are necessary for general operations? I assume that those that I do not check (like Nero, Nuance, Acrobat, HP, etc.) can be run by going to the Program File and launching.

— Ken Friddell

A. Ah, you have hit on the problem with MSCONFIG. It often isn’t clear what an application, a program file or driver belongs to. So you may have to do some trial and error on that.

But if you really want to speed up your start time, I’d recommend moving to a more recent version of Windows. Windows 7 can still challenge your patience while waiting for it load, but it’s a good deal faster than Windows XP.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by email to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/

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