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Article

The Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Malware

Malware – no computer wants it but researchers estimate that the majority of computers have it

But what is malware and what makes it so particularly bad for your PC?

Malware - short for "malicious software," malware refers to software programs designed to damage or do other unwanted actions on a computer system.

Below is a list of the top ten things you may not, but should, know about malware. The list also gives a few examples of particularly nasty pieces of malware, which will make you think twice about clicking on those "scandalous photos or attachments" in the future.

  1. A virus and malware is not the same thing - computer viruses are small programs or scripts that can negatively affect the health of your computer. These programs can create files, move files, erase files, consume your computer's memory, and cause your computer not to function correctly. Some viruses can duplicate themselves, attach themselves to programs, and travel across networks.
  2. New variants and mutations of malware are being released at easily double the speed that software is built to remove them.
  3. Myth - you can't catch something merely by visiting a website. Reality - a drive-by is program that is automatically installed in your computer by merely visiting a website, without having to explicitly click on a link on the page. Typically, they are deployed by exploiting flaws in the browser and operating system code. Keep your browser up to date.
  4. As of May 2013, there were approximately 22,950,378 viruses and pieces of malware being detected each day. This is increased by over 5 million since April 2012 so it looks like the problem is getting worse, not better.
  5. Beware of packages that come from strangers - one of the top social engineering tactics used by the bad guys in email is to send you a notice that you've received a package. If you don't recognize the sender, you may want to delete the email or copy down the reference number, if there is one, go to the site and then enter it. In general, if you receive an email from a name you don't recognize, be wary of opening any attachments.
  6. Beware clicking on links that offer to take you to videos of recent "disasters" - most recently, spammers took advantage of the attention garnered by the Boston Marathon bombing and the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas and used two major botnets to inundate users with messages that purport to link to videos of the tragedies. People who followed the link had several pieces of malware installed on their laptops.
  7. As of January 2013, there were over 350,000 pieces of malware targeting the Android operating system and experts have estimated they expect it to reach 1 million by 2013.
  8. Another particularly nasty piece of malware was the Moneypack scam. The malware would appear on user's computer screens pretending to be an official FBI alert, telling users that their computer is blocked due to Copyright and Related Rights Law violation. The alert attempted to trick users into believing that they have illegally visited or distributed copyrighted content such as videos, music, and software. The user's system is then completely locked down and they are told that services will only be available after a $200 fine is paid. The fine is of course going to the cyber-crime, not the FBI.
  9. A renowned phishing page called Loyphish disguises itself as a legitimate banking webpage and attempts to trick users into filling in their confidential banking information into an online form. Unsuspecting victims thought they were submitting their information confidentially to the bank but they were actually submitting their information to a cyber criminal.
  10. The amount of Mac-specific malware remains fairly small in comparison with other platforms. However, the figure is currently on the rise and it is only going to get worse. Hackers originally targeted Windows because the huge number of users, however, as Mac regains its share of the market, things are likely to change. In May 2013 researchers uncovered the Hangover malware which was involved in high-profile attacks on governments. Researchers predicted the attack had been going on for over three years and that it was thought to be the act of a private-sector group.

As has been shown, malware comes in all shapes and sizes and is often full of lots of nasty surprises. It is therefore recommended that if you feel suspicious about something online, the best option is to steer well clear of it.

Installing a good antivirus is also advised but users should not solely rely on this for protection - it is up to them as well.

After all, your first line of defence is always yourself.

More Stories By Brian Laing

Brian Laing, author of "APT for Dummies," is vice president of AhnLab, where he directs the US operations of this internationally known security and software leader. He possesses a distinct mixture of technology, business and creative expertise drawing on more than 15 years of industry experience. Companies have benefited not only from his “big picture” vision, but also from his understanding of the interconnected pathways that accompany it. Before joining AhnLab, Brian founded Hive Media where he served as CEO. He previously co-founded RedSeal Systems, and conceived the overall design / features of the product. He was also founder and CEO of self-funded Blade Software, who released the industry’s first commercial IPS/FW testing tool.

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