Help - I think we have a Virus  or a Spy

Protecting Your Computer Online and offline

   How to Protect your Computer when You Are
                           Online - and Offline

   Technological advances, increasingly sophisticated software, faster
networks and online communication have brought many benefits for
everyday computer users. However, with these advances have come
increased security risks. When cyber criminals harness this very same technology to further their evil ends, many previously unknown risks lie in wait to trap the unprepared, often hidden among the social networks.

   The following should be a review for the more experienced computer user, but some of these threats could be new to the lesser
experienced web surfers.

Here are some common threats and ways to handle them:

   Viruses - These malicious software codes cause undesirable effects on our computers. A virus is designed to spread itself without the knowledge of the computer user. A computer may become infected through downloads from the internet using CD's, floppy disks, or other storage devices with infected programs, or from other computers on the network. Another extremely common way viruses spread is through infected email attachments.

   Given the many modes of transmission, computer viruses are clearly a threat online as well as offline. The old adage "Prevention is better than the cure" is particularly true in the case of computer viruses. You can save yourself a lot of virus grief and many hours of misery by avoiding infection in the first place.

   These simple and practical rules can help you avoid virus grief:

     1. Install a reliable and reputable anti virus software and run regular scans. Preferably have the scan run on boot up.

     2. New computer viruses are created everyday. Make sure your anti-virus software is kept up to date with the latest virus definitions.

     3. Do not download software from questionable or unknown sources. Always scan software using your anti-virus software before executing or installing on your computer.

     4. Do not open email attachments from unknown senders. It is best to use an anti-virus software that automatically scans your email and can warn you if any threats are detected.

   Spyware - are programs usually installed secretly along with other software whose purpose is to capture information about the computer user, the computer installation and other sensitive information about computer usage. This information may then be transmitted to a third party either by email or through the software "calling home" to transmit information to a remote website. Depending on the nature of information collected and transmitted this could pose a serious security risk.

   Adware - propagated in a manner similar to spyware, these programs serve to pop up advertisements on the user's internet browser or desktop. These programs too may capture information about the user's browsing or purchasing habits so that advertisements may be
tailored to suit.

   Worms - These are a type of virus that duplicates itself and takes control of computer resources. The main distinction between a worm and other viruses is that a worm does not necessarily have to live within a host program and can run itself.

   Trojans - these are malicious programs that masquerade as something useful thereby enticing the computer user to execute them and unleash their nasty payload.

   Keyloggers - These are programs that record keystrokes entered through the keyboard and then secretly transmit this information to a third party. Naturally this can expose passwords, credit card details and other important information.

   Control of worms, trojans, keyloggers, spyware and adware is achieved using similar strategies to those adopted for viruses, namely using appropriate anti-virus software including firewalls, spyware and adware scanners, and avoiding executing programs obtained from unknown sources.

   Hackers accessing and taking control of a computer is another serious risk especially today with the widespread use of "always on" broadband internet. Hackers may exploit vulnerabilities in legitimate software or use trojans or viruses they have implanted to gain control of a single computer, or a network of compromised computers (botnets) which they can then use for sending unsolicited commercial emails (spam) or for other illegal activities. The idea here is to shield the perpetrator from detection as the illegal activity appears to originate from the computer they have taken control of.

   In order to minimize risk of hacking attacks it is important that protective software used, including the operating system, is kept up to date by installing all vendor supplied updates and upgrades.

   An effective firewall is another vital defense against unauthorized access by third parties. A firewall could be installed on the modem used to connect to the internet or as a software program that runs on the computer. The firewall serves to control who and what programs are allowed to access or make connections with the internet. A firewall can also be useful in detecting and controlling programs like keyloggers which attempt to call home.

   Phishing is a security phenomenon that has seen an alarming increase in recent years. Criminals employ increasingly convincing and sophisticated means of sending emails which appear to originate from legitimate websites. However, links in these emails actually lead to
websites controlled by them where they can capture valuable personal information such as logins and passwords. This is commonly used to cheat unsuspecting users by tricking them into revealing online bank login details etc.

   The golden rule in dealing with phishing attempts is to treat all emails which request personal information with at least skepticism if not suspicion. Never click a link in an email and enter login information or other personal information as the ultimate destination of that link may be cleverly concealed. When logging into online banking sites for instance always type the address in the browsers address bar.

   It is also important to pay attention to security features on webpages where sensitive information is to be entered. A webpage address that starts with https: and shows a padlock symbol is secure. This means that any information transmitted from that website is
encrypted and is therefore not at risk if intercepted.

   There are offline risks to your computer as well. For instance - it is important to select strong passwords which cannot easily be guessed. Ideally they should be at least 8 characters long and not consist of a regular word or name and consist of a combination of numeric and non-numeric characters. The strongest password would serve no purpose however, if a hacker is able to get you to disclose it to him. It is important to always be on the look out for social engineering attempts which aim to get you to unknowingly or knowingly reveal sensitive information such as passwords.

   Needless to say, physical security of your computer is also vital. The best antivirus software and firewall will not protect a laptop left in full view in an unlocked car!

   Maintenance and adequate care of hardware should not be neglected either. Regular backups stored in a location away from your principal computer and uninterruptable power supplies are good ideas to protect the integrity of your hardware and data stored thereon.

   Short of never turning your computer on and locking it in a vault, it is possible to minimize your risk to an acceptable level by following common sense and adopting some of the simple rules we reviewed above.

Tags: botnet, phishing, social networking -

                                                                          ... Richard Rossbauer
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