These days I find that Malware seems to be an even bigger threat than traditional viruses. They seem to be more damaging and costly to deal with both from the fallout of the damage that they do and the often costly removal process.

In fact, it was late last year that my own Word Press blog and then my website was infected with Malware via my hosting provider, Network Solutions, which was under seige from Malware attacks for months before seeming to regain control. 

The lesson?    If it can happen to a big hosting company like Network Solutions, it can happen to anyone.

So what exactly is malware and how can it be prevented and treated?  Guest blogger Alan Buckwalter, owner of  Jefric Consulting, had this to say in Part 1 of our 3 part series:

WHAT IS MALWARE?

Malware (or MALicious softWARE) is defined as “software designed to infiltrate a computer system without the owner’s informed consent”1. It is a general term that often refers to viruses, spyware, adware, phishing, and much more. If you looking to protect your computer system(s) from the various threats that can present themselves, you may want to first have a better understanding of what you are dealing with.

“Across the globe, the average number of PCs hit by malware now stands around 59 percent, an all-time high for the year. Among 29 countries tracked, the U.S. ranked ninth with slightly more than 58 percent of its PCs infected. Taiwan hit first place with an infection ratio of 69 percent, while Norway came in lowest with only 39 percent of its PCs attacked by malware.”

The following is a quick review of some of the most common forms of Malware encountered today and other things you might wish to keep in mind. . I encourage you to perform additional research for an in-depth understanding of the topic and ways to protect yourself.

Virus
A computer virus is generally defined as a program that can infect a computer and copy itself. It is often used (incorrectly) as a general term for a variety of Malware (e.g. worms, Trojans, root kits, etc.). Each of these has unique set of characteristics and can affect a computer system in a different way.

A virus is typically a small program that will either corrupt or delete data on your computer; in some cases erasing some if not all of your hard disk. It often spreads from one computer to another via files, e-mail attachments, Internet downloads, network connections, removable media (e.g. USB drives, etc), etc. As with most Malware, Viruses are often hidden / embedded in seemingly innocent websites, downloads and other Internet content.

Anti-virus software is the most common form of anti-malware software. They range in cost and complexity from the free editions for individual / home computers to complex enterprise business solutions that are monitored and managed. Regardless of what you choose, you should have one.

Spyware

“Spyware is a type of malware that is installed on computers and collects little bits of information at a time about users without their knowledge. “

Browser cookies are often reported as spyware, as they are capturing usage patterns and activity to improve the user experience for the current or future visit to the site. Modern day Internet browsers allow you to disable cookies, although this will often limit or disable other features of the site. Most full function anti-virus software packages include some level of spyware detection and prevention as part of their features.These seemingly innocent pieces of software secretly monitor the usage of a computer, collect and share personal information (e.g. web surfing history and habits), and change (computer) settings, redirecting web sites and often resulting in performance degradation, privacy issues and identify theft. Spyware is often downloaded and installed on a computer without the user’s knowledge, connecting to and sharing information with another computer on the Internet.  

Adware

Adware, or advertising-supported software, is any software package which automatically plays, displays, or downloads advertisements to a computer after the software is installed on it or while the application is being used. While not always categorized as malware, adware very often opens the door to a variety of other computer infections, viruses, spyware, etc. Like malware, adware can affect performance and use up other resources of a computer (e.g. disk space, memory, etc).
There are a number of (free and for a price) software packages that can scan and clean your computer of adware. Check and clean your system regularly

 

Phishing

Arguably the most damaging form of malware, leading to many of the other forms of infection, Phishing is “the criminally fraudulent process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. “

Phishing is a serious problem to the online banking community. False advertisement phishing attacks represent an ever increasing percentage of the spam email going through on the Internet. Harmless links can conceal spam and virus infected websites that lead to service, identity and monetary theft. If the IRS is trying to reach you, do you really think they will send you 10 emails a day, as opposed to calling you? These are examples of when being suspicious isn’t a bad thing.

Spam

Email is rapidly becoming the preferred method of communication for businesses to communicate with their staff, clients and vendors. Spam is the modern day electronic version of junk mail. Depending on your organization, spam email accounts for as much as 90% of all email.

While not directly grouped with Malware, it is often responsible for spreading it. By using a good spam filter on your email you can reduce your chances of becoming infected by malware.

Next post:  Some Malware clues (what to look for)