State of PC Security Address: The Virus Landscape
It can be tough to keep up with the latest threats to your computer's security. Here's a guide to help you stay in the know and out of trouble.
When it comes to computing, its a dangerous world out there. Virus developers and other bad guys are relentless in trying to capture user information and destroy systems. Even more challenging, the landscape is constantly changing. As security application developers come up with stronger protection, attackers change tactics and start new battles.
Here are a few of the top dangers to keep in mind, with input from three of our EasyTech experts:
According to EasyTech expert Ryan Salinger, one of the worst threats these days is rogueware, which promises to rid a computer of malicious software (malware).
Often disguised as a virus scan, this threat will display a message with an ominous warning. For example: Virus has been blocked, click here to remove or Multiple viruses detected, click here to run scan. Once you click on the window, a piece of software is covertly installed on your PC. This malware will usually block most attempts to open other programs or to close the virus program itself. Meanwhile, on the screen, youre prompted to pay for virus removal services.
When a credit card number has been put in, youve simply handed over your personal information on a silver platter to some fake company or person, typically overseas, says Salinger. If that wasnt bad enough, your PC will still be infected.
In 2010, Google reported that 11,000 Web site domains were hosting this type of fake antivirus software. Most have names (such as DriveCleaner and WinFixer) that sound similar to legitimate products.
EasyTech expert Shawn Dube notes that his own grandmother was taken in by this type of scam: It really preys on peoples anxiety about computer viruses, he says. This particular type of malware is so tenacious, and it just keeps adapting and changing.
Imagine all of your computers data in the hands of someone else a person who knows exactly what you type, every day. Sounds scary, but it happens often, according to EasyTech expert Mark Gratton. This type of malware is called spyware, because it spies on a users behavior and reports back to the malware developer.
Its there to get your sensitive information, says Gratton, It doesnt affect performance, and it doesnt send out pop-up messages, so you probably wont get an indication that its there.
Many types of spyware spider out, he adds, which means that they create a spiders web of information within the computer and put code in numerous areas. This makes it much harder for an average user to remove all of it. If only part of it is eradicated, whats left can keep moving behind the scenes.
Also, spyware can reside in files that are important for computer operations, Gratton notes. That means those files cant be deleted; the code has to be tweezed out in very specific ways that wont harm the existing data.
One of the most common types of spyware is called a keylogger. This program will track your keystrokes on the computer, and then send a file to the rogue programmer with that information. Think about everything you type in during the day passwords to bank sites, emails to friends, tax data into a spreadsheet and thats what the hacker will get.
Only about 10 percent of malware is designed to spy on you in this way, but its really dangerous for those affected by it, Gratton says.
A type of spyware thats less scary will look at your online habits as you surf the Web and then deliver ads based on what youve been browsing, adds Salinger.
He says, The spyware creators are going after revenue dollars. Most sites, like Google, offer a pay-per-click service, which gives the person placing an ad a very small amount of money for every ad clicked. This may not seem like much, but if 100,000 people are infected, it could lead to some very promising revenue.
Probably the least harmless of the security threats that hit a computer, email viruses can still be annoying to users and their friends.
These viruses work by guessing the password to an email client and then using the program to send out messages that claim to be from you. The emails have links that lead to malware sites.
Dube notes that his Hotmail account got hacked in this way, and the emails became rampant. The program sent out fraud messages to everyone hed ever contacted through that account.
I felt like I got hijacked, he says, Definitely, this is one thats a security threat, so it's good to keep on top of it.
To keep nasty viruses and other dangers off the computer, be sure to follow good practices when online. Create strong passwords, install all operating system updates, run regular security checks and dont click on pop-up windows.
Most importantly, dont download programs or games from companies you dont know. Be suspicious of email messages with Web links that promise jokes, videos, news or other information, even if those emails come from a friend.
Many users find it helpful to have an automated antivirus and intrusion-detection scan. Install reputable security software and follow the instructions for running scans and disinfection on a regular basis.
In order to get a better look at whats on your computer, Salinger notes, you can do a free online virus scan. These dont remove anything from the PC, but theyre helpful to see the level of infection, if any.
If you suspect your computer has already been infected, its important to clean up the right way. With some viruses and applications particularly spyware disinfection is far from simple. Since the virus can replicate and then reside in different parts of the computer, its advisable to have a professional do the work to fully scrub all parts of the malicious code out of the PC.
Security will always be crucial when using your computer. The attackers dont rest, but fortunately, some vigilance can go a long way.