When you start to think about all the things that could go wrong when browsing the Internet, the web starts to look like a pretty scary place. Luckily, Miami business internet users as a whole are getting far more savvy, and better at recognizing risky online behavior.
Let’s dive in.
Understanding Online Security Threats and How They Differ
Malware is short for malicious software. This means that while most of us refer to these threats as viruses, the correct catch-all term should indeed be malware. Malicious software comes in many forms, but malware itself is a general term that could be used to describe any number of things, such as viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, and others. In short, it’s a program or file with bad intentions, the nature of which could encompass just about anything.
Viruses consist of malicious code that infects a device after you install a software. Typically this infection happens through USB drives, Internet downloads, or email attachments, but it can happen in numerous other ways as well. It’s important to note that the infection doesn’t actually occur just from having the infected files on your computer. The infection happens once the program runs for the first time, whether through Autorun, a manual install, or an executable file that the user opens.
Once opened – or run – the infection happens. From that point, it can be very difficult to find and rid yourself of the virus due to the nature in which it works. While actual details are virus-specific, they tend to replicate themselves and infect the file system of the device they reside in by spreading from file to file before they are inevitably – and usually unknowingly – passed on to another machine.
Oh, and it should be pointed out – due to popular opinion – that Macs aren’t immune to viruses.
While relatively benign in most cases, adware might be the most annoying of the threats we’ll talk about today.
Adware is bundled with otherwise legitimate apps or software, which makes initial detection somewhat difficult. A common example is the checkbox at the bottom of a download link (often pre-checked) that asks if we want to “Include X for free” – well, “X” is often the program containing the adware. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s not uncommon. If you aren’t sure what these additional programs are, or how they function, don’t download them.
Trojans and Backdoors
Trojans were named after the Trojan Horse, which was a giant wooden horse used to conceal Greek soldiers as they entered Troy during the Trojan War. History lesson aside, this is the same way that a trojan damages your computer. It hides malicious code inside a seemingly innocuous program or file in order to gain access to your machine. Once inside, the program installs itself on your device, and communicates with a server in the background without your knowledge. This gives an outside party access to your computer through what’s commonly referred to as a backdoor.
One benefit of a backdoor is the nature in which they operate. Since the hacker must connect to your machine remotely, they won’t be able to do this if you disable the Internet connection while you attempt to locate and remove the malicious code.
Other, more malicious forms of spyware, are far more dangerous. While typical spyware is mostly used for ad-serving purposes, malicious spyware communicates sensitive data back to another user, or a server. This data can include emails, photos, log files, credit card numbers, banking information, and/or online passwords.
Spyware is most often downloaded by the user as part of an add-on to a legitimate download (such as a toolbar) or included as part of a freeware or shareware program.
Scareware and Ransomware
Scareware and ransomware differ in their approach, but the end goal for both is to collect money by manipulating the user into believing something that’s often untrue.
Scareware most often takes the form of programs that pop up and tell you that your computer is infected with some sort of malware. When you click to remove the (often) multiple instances of malware, you are forced to pay to purchase the full version before the program can clean your system and rid it of the infections or threats.
Worms are by far the most damaging form of malware. While a virus attacks one computer and relies on a user to share infected files in order for it to spread, a worm exploits security loopholes in a network and can potentially bring the whole thing to its knees in a matter of minutes.
Networks with security vulnerabilities are targeted by introducing the worm into the network and allowing it to pass (often unnoticed) from computer to computer. As it passes from one device to another, the infection spreads until each machine is infected – or – the worm is isolated by removing the infected machines from the network.
Unnamed Exploits, Security Flaws and Vulnerabilities
No matter how competent the developer, every program has security flaws and vulnerabilities. These security flaws allow hackers to exploit them in order to gain access to the program, alter it in some way, or inject their own code (often malware) within it.
If you were ever wondering why programs had so many security updates, it’s because of the constant cat and mouse being played between developers and hackers. The developer attempts to find, and patch, these holes before they’re exploited, while the hacker attempts to exploit security flaws before they’re discovered and patched by a developer.
The only way to stay even remotely safe from these exploits is to keep your operating system and each of your programs up-to-date by installing updates as they become available.
Staying Safe Online
if you spend any portion of your time on the web, it’s unlikely that you can completely protect yourself from all the badware out there ( your regular antivirus can’t protect your network from all the threats ). While infections and exploits can – and do – happen to anyone, all businesses should have a reliable and secure Cyber Security strategy and promote Cyber Security awareness within their working environment ( Educating and training employees is a MUST ! ).