Most consumers believe the only cost associated with malware is a subscription to a reputable antivirus program like Norton, McAfee, AVG or Panda. That’s mostly true with individuals and residences, but in the business world, the cost goes far beyond that. In fact, the cost of malware on the world’s economy is more than the GNP of Morocco. We’re not talking an inconvenient Trojan that might slow your boot time. We’re talking millions of user IDs and passwords, account numbers, Social Security numbers and all the chunks of data that shelter our lives.

The Real Price of Malware

How does malware hurt a business? By far the most damaging of cost of malware is on business reputation. Google, the world’s most popular search engine, protects users with its Safe Browsing Feature. If an online business, no matter how reputable, accidently distributes a virus, Google automatically flags it. This leads to an ominous surfer warning or even removal from Google search results. Although a site can eventually be removed from blacklisting, it means weeks or months of lost business.  A lull like that is the kiss of death for many businesses.

“Phishing” and Fraud

Another sly cost of malware is in simple misinformation, one of the oldest grafts of all. Almost everyone has received these, but the number of individuals and businesses that fall for it his is staggering. Any webpage, including login sites of Bank of America, Chase, Paypal and the Better Business Bureau, can be altered by simply pasting a line of code in the address bar. Any moderately savvy computer user knows this. Once that code is pasted, the site can be duplicated and then used to con customers into giving personal information. In 2006, MySpace was plagued by a phishing worm that extracted data from millions of users. This specific attack showed for the first time how vulnerable social networking (even for a business) is.

Free Software Always has a Cost

Today, the most common method malware creators use to penetrate any computer network or system is through counterfeit software. The popularity and ease of torrent-based downloads has done far more damage than plaguing the entertainment industry. There are worse things than copyright infringement. Malware is frequently embedded in this software, and users give this malware-encrusted software permission to access every level of their computer.

The cost of downloading that “free” $50 game can be an empty bank account, identity theft and phantom credit cards. In extreme cases, victims even discovered criminals took out a mortgage in their name.  The first and best advice in preventing malware attacks is refraining from downloading illegal software and ensuring it is never used in business.

Responsible vs. Reckless Business

Advertisements for business and private security are becoming more and more common today, but these should be looked on as smart investments, not luxuries. Like home or car insurance, the small monthly cost of these services pales in comparison to the potential destructiveness of malware. Just like a responsible driver wouldn’t hit the highway without insurance, a responsible business owner shouldn’t manage computer systems without adequate online computer security. Anything less else is simply reckless.