Thank you, WannaCry, for bringing cyber security back into focus for us. Now that we’re all concerned about our digital lives again, it’s time for a little refresher on the basics of malware. So buckle in kids, here we go!
If you haven’t heard the story about the Greeks and their Trojan horse, you probably grew up under a rock. Long story short, the Greeks built a huge horse as a “gift” for the Trojans. They hid inside the horse, so when the Trojans brought the gift inside their walls, the Greeks popped out and were able to conquer the city of Troy. That Trojan horse was a backdoor into the city, and that is exactly how a digital Trojan works.
How do you get a Trojan? You’re tricked into downloading a file or application you think is legitimate, but in reality it’s malware. Once it’s downloaded, hackers, viruses, and other malicious beings have easy access to your computer. Trojans can view web history, intercept your passwords, steal login information, remotely control your computer, use you for click fraud… the list goes on and on. They can’t replicate like viruses or worms, but they are just as intrusive and dangerous.
No, not those slimy things outside in the yard after a rain. These digital worms are experts at finding vulnerabilities in your computer and network, then using them to their advantage. You get worms from various means, like infected email attachments, social networking site links, and software loopholes. Worms can self-replicate without the need for a hacker or a computer program telling them what to do. They can shut down your system, dry up resources, and do serious damage with very little effort.
Hello, most well-known malware! We all have a bad habit of generalizing cyber threats into the term “virus” but that’s only because we have no reason to know the difference between the terms. (Unless we work in IT or a similar field.) But viruses have specific qualities that set them apart from worms or Trojans. A virus spreads and replicates without the need for a hacker to be pulling the strings—similar to a worm. The difference is, a virus needs to attach to a file or program to do so. The most common way viruses spread are through email attachments or instant messages. Remember the “Know what you’re opening and who it’s from” campaign? It was an attempt to curb the spread of viruses. So what damage can they do? The sky is the limit, and it depends on the severity and ultimate goal behind the virus. Some characteristic aftereffects include a slow computer, a fried operating system, and corrupted hardware, software, and files.
Proper Defense Tactics
Alright kids, the bus ride is almost over. So how do you protect yourself from cyber threats? It’s nice to know what they are and that not everything is a “virus,” but how do you avoid them? The best way is to stay extremely cautious with what you’re clicking, opening, and downloading. If a link looks odd, if an attachment comes from an unknown sender, or the website you’re on is off, stay far away. It’s better to be safe than end up crying over your destroyed computer and stolen identity.
Another easy way to stay ahead of malware is to make sure your security and software is consistently up-to-date. Just like hackers are always trying to find new ways around digital security, superhero programmers are staying ahead of them and constantly updating patches and security software to make sure you and your computer are safe.
So next time you get that popup that says you need to update your security program, or there’s a new patch available, DO IT.