The digital world has revolutionised our lives. We now live in an age that would have been considered science fiction not so long ago, and every day we hold more technology in our smartphones than what took astronauts to the moon. Clearly, the internet, smartphones, tablets, and computers provide us with an incredible amount of information. Yet, as our reliance on computers has grown, so have the dangers that accompany them.
To help mitigate the risk malware can present, I have put together this list of tips on how to prevent malware infections.
Firstly, What is Malware?
Malware is short for malicious software, which is a program designed to infiltrate and affect your computer system without your knowledge. The internet provides plenty of opportunities for threat agents (hackers) to infect your system with malware, but infections can also be caused by other systems on the network which have already been corrupted.
There are many types of malware, including:
Spyware & Adware
A computer virus is a program that can copy itself and infect a computer without the user’s consent or knowledge, the virus then executes and can perform a range of dangerous actions depending on the embedded script. A worm is similar. It is a self-replicating program that copies itself to other computers over the network, but, different from a virus, a worm uses system resources so much a computer becomes unusable – it does not corrupt or modify files on the target computer.
A Trojan horse is malware named after the Trojan horse story in Greek mythology. A Trojan horse is an executable program that appears as a desirable or useful program, but, after it is loaded, can bypass a system’s security. This allows private information such as passwords and credit card number to be read and copied, as well as the opportunity to execute further malware. This may be confused for a backdoor, which is a program that gives some remote user unauthorised control of a system or automatically initiates an unauthorised task. However, a backdoor may be created by programmers within commercial applications, or inside a customised application made for an organisation, and isn’t always malicious.
Spyware is a type of malware that is installed on computers and collects personal information and browsing habits, often without the user’s knowledge. Spyware can also install additional software, which can redirect your web browser to other sites or change your homepage. One type of spyware is a keylogger: malware which returns every keystroke to a threat agent. Adware, however, is any software package that automatically plays, displays, or downloads advertisements to a computer after the software is installed on it or while the application is being used.
A rootkit is a software or hardware device designed to gain administrator-level control over a computer system without being detected. This is sometimes coupled with ransomware to encrypt data files and demand a ransom for the decryption.
How to Protect your Computer from Malware
Keep your system up to date. Some viruses, worms, rootkits, spyware, and adware are made possible because they exploit a security hole in your operating system, browser and/or other software packages. Therefore, the first step that should be taken to protect yourself against malware is to keep your system up-to-date with the latest service packs, security patches, and other critical fixes
Use an up-to-date antivirus software package. In addition, if your antivirus software does not include an anti-spyware component, install an anti-spyware software package. Perform a full system scan with your antivirus software at least once a week. Be sure that your antivirus is up-to-date too! If it is not up-to-date, it will not know about newer viruses.
Update your web browser. Just like other software, your browser can contain bugs. Threat agents are quick to capitalise on these and create bogus (or infect genuine) web sites with data designed to exploit them. Once a web browser has been compromised in this way, a hacker can monitor everything you type, including passwords to credit card numbers. That’s why it’s vital to use the latest version of your web browser – anything other than this may be a security risk.
Create Strong Passwords. Passwords are one of the most critical links to your security chain and you have to be very careful while creating passwords. Ensure you know how to create memorable and secure passwords!
Use a Firewall and don’t install unknown software or software from an unknown source. Using a network firewall can help you lay out security policies and regulate what traffic passes in and out of your network. Some firewalls come with built-in anti-viruses, so they also block viruses, worms and other harmful processes from entering your network.
Minimise downloads. Make sure your Web browser’s security settings are high enough to detect unauthorised downloads.
Don’t use Public Wi-Fi. When you are at the local coffee shop, library, and especially the airport, don’t use the “free” open (non-password, non-encrypted) Wi-Fi. Think about it. If you can access it with no issues, what can a trained malicious individual do?
Think before you click. One manner for a threat agent to infect your system is through phishing, so don’t click any links from suspicious emails.
Don’t visit questionable websites, especially sites that allow downloading software from music and video piracy sites and pornography sites.
Perform regular backups. The best thing you can do is back up your files—all of them. Ideally you will have your files (your data) in at least three places: the place where you work on them, on a separate storage device, and off-site. Keep your files on your computer, back them up to an external hard drive, then back them up in a different location. You can use a backup service or simply get two external hard drives and keep one at work, at a friend’s house, at a family member’s house, or in a safe deposit box.