A Secure Computer Is A Happy Computer
Updated: Jun 18, 2018
A Secure Computer is a Happy Computer
So, this week, after a little persuasion from other parties, I’ve decided to write a short piece about computer viruses and what can be done to prevent infection. As this is an IT blog, you can safely assume that when I mention ‘virus’ I’m talking ‘computer virus’.
What Is It?
A virus is just one member of a group of malicious pieces of software, scarily abbreviated to ‘malware’. Other members of the malware group include worms, trojans, ransomware, spyware, and more.
What’s The Issue? Malware is bad. It's designed to cause damage to computers in homes and businesses, and can affect laptops, PCs, servers, tablets, mobiles phones, etc. The most commonly affected computers are those running Windows, but Mac OS, Linux systems, and both Android and iPhones are also at risk, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Once introduced to a computer the malware carries out the job it was designed for.
to get sensitive information from your computer, such as passwords, usernames or bank details;
to take control of your computer and use it for other purposes such as sending out spam emails, host illegal data or carry out attacks on other computers;
monitor your internet habits to then display unsolicited advertisements;
encrypt all your photos, music, documents, to make them unreadable without you paying a ransom for a password to unlock them all;
corrupt or delete your data in such a way that it becomes unrecoverable and is lost
That last one doesn’t happen so much these days, unless you happen to be a large company or government organisation. Occasionally these sorts of places are specifically targeted; sometimes by a disgruntled employee, or perhaps by another government. In the case of a worm called STUXnet, it is believed (although unconfirmed) that this was jointly developed by America/Israel to cause substantial damage to Iran’s nuclear program.
What Are The Differences Between The Types Of Malware? Some of these overlap, and some will use methods of attack/infection that will lead to other types of malware gaining access.
Viruses are usually hidden within another bit of software that on the surface appears completely harmless. It can copy itself into other programs and files, and that action itself can cause data corruption.
Ransomware is a particularly bad one. I’ve seen one case of it, and I was fortunate enough to spot it before any data was lost, and clean the system thoroughly, avoiding anything worse than some late nights in front of various screens. On a mobile phone these programs will lock the device; on a PC all the data will be encrypted and locked away in folders, or the system may be prevented from starting up. In virtually all cases the data is irretrievable unless the victim pays a significant amount of money to an unidentifiable third party and gains a password to unlock all the data.
Trojans get into computers by pretending to be something they’re not, a la the ancient Greek story of the invasion of Troy. Once installed the usual function is to open a backdoor into the computer system, allowing access to a program or user who can then use the computer for their own gain.
Spyware is exactly what it sounds like. Computer usage is monitored, data is sent to
someone else who then targets that computer with (usually) marketing and advertising. It can also be used to steal other data. An example would be a keylogger – a program that records everything that is typed in, such as usernames, passwords, etc., which are then sent to someone else to use and abuse.
Phishing is not really a spreadable malware, but I’ve included it here as it’s related inasmuch as your data is extracted for malicious purposes. By presenting the user with often convincing login pages, or perhaps an email that purports to come from a bank or other financial institution, login information is unwittingly handed over to a third party who then has much easier access to the user’s funds. This method can also be used for identity fraud for the same reasons.
OK, I’ve Been Sufficiently Scared. What Do I Do? In all cases, we want to avoid malware. To make that easier there are several things all computer users should do.
Firstly, get a decent Antivirus and security package. I cannot stress this enough. If you don’t have antivirus and security software (and hardware) installed, up-to-date, and constantly running, then the chances are you will get an infection of some description. You wouldn’t go out of your home and leave the front door open; the same logic should be applied to your computer.
Secondly, employ good practices whether you’re at home or at the office, or on the move with your laptop and mobile. If you don’t recognise the sender of an email, or if a message pops up saying you need to visit a page to enter your credentials, think carefully before you act. It sounds like common sense because it is, but, as many people discover, it’s all too easy to just quickly check an email while you’re trying to do a thousand other things and not take the level of care needed.
Thirdly, don’t download or open any files that you don’t recognise, e.g. documents, spreadsheets, pictures, etc. If you’ve downloaded something from a website, are you sure you can trust that site? If your best friend/most respected family member just emailed you and the attachment says it’s a picture of their cat, would they normally send you something like that? Do they even have a cat?
Finally, if you’re not sure about it, don’t do it. Don’t download it/open it/click the link without being certain of it’s authenticity. Once your computer has an infection it’s going to be a pain to get rid of it.
What Are The Signs Of Infection?
You may not see any at all, depending on the type of infection. More often than not though, your computer or device will exhibit one or more of these behaviours:
slow to respond to keypresses or taps, slow to boot up
unusual error messages at random times, not necessarily when you're using the device
any other behaviour that you wouldn't expect to see during normal use
If you get any of the above it would be a good idea to get it checked out. It may not be anything to worry about at all, but caution is king when we're talking malware.
As an experienced IT Consultant with fingers placed in many pies over the years, I can provide you with reliable, expert advice and services.
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