Dangerous Threats You Must Be Aware Of
One of the most dangerous aspects of online threats is their ability to hide their existence. Hackers and the creators of malicious spyware and malware programs go to great lengths to design programs that are difficult to identify and ultimately remove.
That means a malicious program can be downloaded and doing its dirty work on your computer long before you are aware of it. Below are the two most common threats you’ll need to guard against.
Spyware is technical jargon for hidden programs which advertisers install on your PC without your permission to spy on you, gather information, and report this information about you and your online activities to an outside person.
Spyware is NOT harmless; it can be responsible for delivering a boatload of spam, altering your web browser, slowing down your PC, and serving up a bounty of pop-up ads. In some of the more extreme cases, spyware can also steal your identity, passwords, e-mail contacts and even use your PC for illegal activities.
Most spyware finds its way onto your computer via file downloads including free programs, music files, and screen savers. While you may *think* you are only downloading a legitimate program to add emoticons (smiley faces) to your e-mails, you could very likely be unknowingly downloading a stack of spyware programs.
Spyware piggybacks the download and runs in the background gathering information about you and sending it back to its originator until it is removed. Although spyware has malicious components, surprisingly it is not illegal and it is not considered a virus because it doesn’t replicate itself or destroy data.
Malware is short for malicious software and represents all programs, viruses, trojans, and worms that have malicious intent to damage or disrupt a system. Malware is harder to remove and will fight back when you try to clean it from your system. In some extreme cases, we have had to completely wipe out all of the information on the computers’ hard disk and start with a complete re-install of the operating system.
In addition to all this, a malware infection can corrupt your files, change or delete data, gather and distribute confidential information such as bank accounts, credit cards, and other personal data, disable hardware, prevent you from using your computer, and cause a hard drive to crash. Often, malware is also designed to send itself from your e-mail account to all the friends and colleagues in your address book without your knowledge or consent.
The Four Most Costly Misconceptions About Viruses
Some spyware and malware can be easily removed by using specially designed programs. However, not all malicious programs can be removed – or even detected – using these types of software.
Many programs integrate so deeply into the operating system that it takes a skilled technician several hours to fully diagnose and remove the malicious program. In some extreme cases, the programs are so intelligent that there is simply no alternative, but to wipe the hard disk clean by deleting all of the files on it and re-installing the operating system.
In all cases, malware, spyware, and viruses are a result of some action taken by the user. Remember, cyber criminals are incredibly clever and gain access to your computer via some of the most innocent and common activities you are performing; that is why it seems as though it is your computer’s fault.
Installing programs is not the only way a hacker or malware program can access your computer. If your security patches and anti-virus definitions are not up-to-date, hackers can access your PC through other means such as a banner ad on the web that you accidentally clicked on or through an e-mail attachment that you opened.
It has been reported recently that hackers now have capabilities to install malicious programs on your computer via your Internet Explorer web browser without the need for you to even click on anything or download any program. One missed security patch is all it takes to leave you completely vulnerable.
Finally, you should completely avoid any and all peer to peer file sharing networks such as KaZaa, bit torrent etc. These sites are the absolute worst online activities you could possibly ever engage in because they are breeding grounds for hackers, spyware, malware, and other malicious attacks.
This is probably one of the biggest and most dire misconceptions that most computer users fall victim to. Think of your computer just like you do your car. If you don’t change the oil, air filter, rotate the tires, flush the transmission, and perform other regular maintenance on your car, it will eventually break down (and it’s always when you are driving back from Canberra). It will end up costing you far more to repair it than the cost of the basic maintenance. Not to mention the additional expenses: tow truck, missed work/appointment or taking little Johnny to soccer practice.
There are certain computer maintenance checks that need to be done daily (such as virus updates and spam filtering), weekly (like system backups and a spyware sweep), and monthly or quarterly like checking for and installing security patches and updates, disk defrag, spyware detection and removal, checking the surge suppressor and the integrity of the hard drive, etc.
You should be adamant that you have your IT service professional provide regular maintenance on your network and that they set up automatic virus definition updates, spam filtering (to avoid viruses), and automatic system backups that are stored at an off-site location (this protects the backup from fire, flood, or other natural disasters).
If your technician does not press you to let him do this for you, then why are you with them? RUN – don’t walk – out of their office. Lack of system maintenance is ultimately the reason most companies end up losing valuable files and incurring heavy network repair bills. If your IT company isn’t offering you these services, you need to find someone else to support your network for two reasons:
- Either they don’t know enough to make this recommendation, which is a sure sign they are horribly inexperienced, OR
- They recognise that they are profiting from your computer problems and don’t want to recommend steps towards preventing you from needing their help on an ongoing basis.
Either reason is a good one to get as far away from that IT consultant as possible!
Again, this is a terrible misconception. Microsoft does NOT include ALL of the security features to protect your data from viruses, hackers, and data loss or prevent your PC from running slowly.
As a matter of fact, there is no one single vendor that provides ALL of the system security features you need to keep your computer and files safe from harm.
Security and protection from these malicious attacks takes a multi-faceted, layered approach.
Want to know more? Contact us for an obligation-free network audit to determine where your company's missing links are.