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As technology continues to advance, the complexity of cyber attacks advances as well. The numerous ways that hackers attempt to infiltrate your computer only continues to grow, making it difficult to protect your personally identifiable information (PII) on the Internet.
Definitions of Cybersecurity Terms
Before we begin discussing the various ways you can protect your computer and its files from harm, it’s important that you understand a few key terms:
- Cybersecurity: measures taken to protect a computer/computer system (on the Internet) against unauthorized access or attack
- Malware: software that contains specialized code designed to damage or allow unauthorized access to a computer
- Virus: a type of cyber attack that activates a program within a computer system to cause damage to computer files
- Worm: a type of cyber attack that travels through a computer’s memory and hard drive to cause a computer to crash
- Trojan: a type of virus that appears legitimate, but performs illicit activity when activated
- Spyware: malicious software that gathers information about a computer discretely
Analysis of Cybersecurity Terms
The term “cybersecurity” has been used since 1994 and encompasses the protective measures taken to guard your computer from various types of cyber attacks. While you can never guarantee that your computer will be protected 100 percent of the time, it’s smart to learn about the best practices and technology available to decrease the risk of infecting your computer.
Malware, short for “malicious software,” contains malicous code designed to damage or perform other unwanted actions on a computer system. Some typical forms of malware include viruses, worms, Trojans and spyware. These forms of malware are designed to steal your protected data, delete your documents, log your keystrokes, redirect your Web browser to phishing pages or add software to your system that you have not approved. Malware can be attached to free demos that you download from a Web page. Hackers love to use free game demos or free online services from the Internet to spread malware programs to your computer. Watch out for user agreements that state that “the vendor is allowed to install third party software on your computer” — most users don’t read the fine print of these agreements and unknowingly install malware on their computer.
Read more to find out how to detect malware on your computer here.
Viruses are the most well-known form of malware discussed in this article. A virus will spread itself throughout your computer by initiating a downloaded program either through an email attachment or a phishing website. First, it will infect your computer files or specific areas of your computer system and begin replicating itself. From there, the virus will damage or destroy your files. Viruses rely on you to activate the initial program, usually spread through spam email attachments or phishing websites. Although some viruses can be harmless, it’s best to avoid downloading all viruses.
Read more to find out how to detect a virus on your computer here.
Computer worms are kind of like real worms — they tunnel through your computer’s memory and hard drive to replicate. While worms don’t actually cause any damage to your existing files, its replications can cause your computer to gradually slow down, filling up your computer’s memory. Eventually, worms can cause your computer to crash. Unlike viruses, a computer worm does not require you to initiate the software. Worms have a mind of their own, scanning the Internet looking for access into vulnerable software points or attach themselves to legitimate software programs. Worms can be especially dangerous because they can spread to numerous computer systems and can multiply quickly.
Read more to find out how to detect a worm on your computer here.
Picture the Trojan horse that the Greeks used as a sneak-attack in the Trojan War. That’s exactly how a Trojan virus works. Trojans can be hard to detect because they can appear to be legitimate while sneaking harmful software into your computer. Trojans are especially dangerous because of their wide range of capabilities. They can locate personal information stored on your computer, weaken your computer system to allow the hacker future access, destroy programs or data that are located on your hard drive and even allow a hacker to remotely control your computer. Trojans often hide in free game downloads or other utilities. Without running a thorough anti-virus software, Trojans may stay on your computer for a long period of time, collecting your personal and financial information without you even knowing about it.
Read more to find out how to detect a Trojan virus on your computer here.
Spyware, also known as adware, can also gather information stored on your computer without your knowledge. Its purpose is to capture your information and Web surfing habits, including email messages, usernames, passwords and even financial information. Spyware is dangerous because it hides in email attachments and can send your information to another computer over the Internet. Once installed on your computer, you may start to notice an increase in pop-up ads on your screen and frequent browser redirects to certain websites. In extreme cases, spyware may track your keystrokes.
Read more to find out how to detect spyware on your computer here.
Applying the Cybersecurity Terms
The birth of the Internet was also the birth of malware attacks. The initial research regarding self-replicating computer software began in 1949. Since then, it’s been estimated that there are more than 150,000 new strains of malware created each day. Let’s take a look at a few:
The Melissa virus was a macro virus, meaning that it was built into word processor applications like Microsoft Word, and spread through email attachments. This specific virus affected Microsoft Word 97 and Word 2000 and was activated upon opening the infected attachment. It is known for its notable speed for its time (1999), reaching more than 100,000 computers in a three-day span.
Sapphire (SQL) Slammer
This computer worm made history in 2003, infecting 90 percent of its 75,000 affected hosts
in the first 10 minutes of its release. This specific worm spread by accessing random IP addresses (over 55 million scans per second), taking advantage of a well-known glitch in the Microsoft SQL Server as its vulnerable entry point. The worm moved so quickly and overloaded so many network servers that it caused airlines to cancel flights and ATM failures.
Also known as “max++” and “Sirefef,” this Trojan horse was discovered in 2011 and has
affected at least nine million computer systems. This Trojan is especially dangerous because it can infiltrate your computer in a variety of ways. The first is through social engineering, or the method of convincing you to activate the malware either through a legitimate-looking file or by piggybacking legitimate downloads. The second also relies on you, however, the Trojan is hidden in an advertisement link that redirects you to an infected site. The third involves payment to third party vendors to install the virus with their downloadable software.
CryptoLocker is considered a ransomware Trojan because it literally holds your computer files ransom in exchange for a monetary payment. This infamous malware made its debut in 2013 through .zip file email attachments. CryptoLocker encrypts your files and hides the unique decryption key in a private server that only the creators of the Trojan can access. Once the ransom is paid, the creators claim to decrypt the files and restore your computer back to normal. Experts urge victims to never pay the ransom, however, they’ve also determined that there is no way to reclaim your files without the decryption code.
Here’s a list of ways to decrease your computer’s risk of cyber attacks:
- Install anti-virus software from a reputable vendor. Make sure your AV software is from a reputable vendor and includes email scans. Use the anti-virus program regularly and download the latest updates to ensure that your software is up-to-date on the newest viruses, worms, Trojans and spambots.
- Make sure your operating system is up-to-date. Regularly apply the most recent patches recommended by your OS vendor.
- Use a virus scan before you open any new programs or files.
- Beware of double extension files. Hackers use double extensions to hide the malicious software in legitimate extensions. It could look like this: not_Spam.pdf.exe. This file may look like a .pdf file to the untrained eye, but it’s actually an .exe file. Double extensions mean viruses in almost all cases.
- If you don’t know the sender, don’t open it!
- Never download any free programs unless you trust the source and have read the end user agreement. Avoid free downloads that require third party vendor software to be downloaded with it.
- Change your passwords often. If your computer is infected, there is a good chance that the cybercriminal knows your passwords.