Office of Information Technology

Protecting Yourself from Malware


Malware is often used to describe unwanted programs on your computer, such as viruses and spyware. Some malware can be especially bad in that it can gather and send private information about you to third parties.


Common Ways Computers Get Infected with Malware

Malware frequently infects computers through two common approaches:

  • Coercing you into installing malware by representing it as something else, such as: a popular program, false e-mail, or a solution to a problem.
  • Exploiting known vulnerabilities in old versions of programs installed on your computer. This is known as a "drive-by" attack, because the malware can attack your computer when you simply visit an infected website.


Tips for Preventing Infection

The Office of Information Technology (OIT) plans to begin using an asset management tool to push updates to AU-owned computers to mitigate the risks posed by vulnerable programs. However, we do not have the resources to monitor every program in use, and thus rely on you to install updates to programs, when you are prompted to do so.

  • You should carefully consider the source of a program before installing. Make sure it is coming from a reliable source.
  • Please note that OIT critical patch downloads will always require a login to the portal, so you can rest assured that they are legitimately from us.
  • You should always keep your installed computer programs up to date. Always install updates when prompted.
    • Trustworthy updates will not generate warnings about security.
    • Programs that you do not have installed on your computer do not need to be updated.
  • Please note: Many types of malware are not detected by anti-virus software.


Commonly Exploited Programs

The top most commonly exploited programs include:

  • Acrobat Reader
  • Flash
  • Java

Making sure the versions of these programs are the newest available can do a great deal to reduce your computer's vulnerability to malware infection.



Why Doesn't Cisco Clean Access Protect Me

Many customers question how their computer got infected by malware when they have AU's Cisco Clean Access (CCA) Agent installed. CCA only checks for software updates for Windows and anti-virus programs, as well as some other configuration settings. It does not and cannot check every program that is installed on the computer.



What To Do If You Think Your Computer Is Infected

  • Stop and contact the IT Help Desk for guidance, if you think your computer may have malware installed.
  • You should immediately change your passwords to your AU accounts and all personal accounts you have accessed on the infected computer.

Please contact the IT Help Desk by phone at 202-885-2550, e-mail at helpdesk@american.edu, or instant message AskAmericanUHelp for assistance, recommendations of tools to help you check your computer for out of date software, and further information.