How can you tell if your computer’s security has been compromised?
Ask yourself these questions:
• Do odd error messages appear?
• Does your computer function very slowly?
• Have your browser settings changed?
• Do you see additional browser toolbars?
• Do you get a lot of pop up ads when you browse?
• Does your anti-virus program notify you that a virus has been “quarantined”, moved to a temporary location and made inactive?
• Do your colleagues tell you that the emails you send sometimes have viruses?
If your computer is experiencing any or all of these symptoms, it might be compromised.
Viruses, Worms and Trojans
Viruses, worms and Trojans are all computer programs written with the intent of damaging computers or annoying users.
• Virus: A computer virus is a program which attaches itself to, overwrites or otherwise replaces another program in order to reproduce itself without the user’s knowledge. It is spread by opening an infected application or infected file from an email attachment or storage devices.
• Worm: A computer worm is a program which spreads itself over network connections, infecting other computers and congesting or consuming a network’s bandwidth. Worms do not require a host file to survive and breed. They are mostly found on networks and may propagate automatically without the need for user initiation (such as opening an infected file) to launch. Typically, a worm will arrive at a target computer, exploit software vulnerabilities to enter the machine, hijack it, and send thousands of copies of itself to other computers that happen to be connected on the same network.
• Trojan: Trojans are malicious codes that masquerade as harmless programs. A Trojan allows the hacker to take complete control over the infected computer. Trojans do not proliferate by themselves and need external assistance (careless users, hackers, etc.) to spread from one computer to the next. There are a number of ways viruses, worms and Trojans can infect your computer, including:
- Being connected to a network without protection (Firewall, antivirus software)
- Opening malicious email attachments
- Online downloads
- Engaging in peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing activities
- Poor online habits
Spyware and Adware
Spyware and Adware is software that has been unknowingly installed on your computer to monitor your Internet browsing activity, invading your privacy as well as affecting your computer’s performance. Adware installs annoying pop-up advertisements and unwanted toolbars which can also affect the stability of your operating system. Adware uses directed marketing but is not malicious like spyware, which transmits your private data to third parties.
Other security threats
• Phishing: Phishing attacks use social engineering to trick users into revealing confidential information with the aim of gaining illicit access to systems. Most phishing attacks are conducted by email; the emails mimic legitimate establishments in an attempt to fool recipients into disclosing confidential information. Please note that phishing attempts appear in many guises, including but not limited to, email, popup windows, or instant messages.
• Social engineering schemes: Social engineering is the art of using deceptive tactics to acquire confidential information. These deceptive schemes employ social skills in order to cleverly trick someone into revealing confidential data such as account usernames and passwords.
• Keyloggers: A keylogger is a program that captures all keystrokes made by a user. They are often used by criminals to capture passwords and other personal information from unsuspecting users. Keyloggers can be installed manually by an attacker or automatically by a virus, worm or Trojan.
Protection and prevention
• Install security updates: viruses, worms and Trojans often target older, vulnerable software. Keeping computer software collection up to date with patches is essential to keeping your computer clean and healthy.
• Do not be fooled: many viruses, worms and Trojans use social engineering tricks to spread: they trick and entice users into downloading and opening harmless looking but infected files. When receiving an unexpected file from someone, confirm with the alleged source on the validity of the file before accepting and opening it.
• Install an antivirus: AV helps to detect the first signs of trouble allowing you to deal with dangerous files quickly and soundly before they have the chance to do you any harm. You should always leave the auto-protect feature of your AV enabled.
• Update your AV: Enable the automatic update feature in your antivirus program to keep you protected.
• Safe computing habits: Adopting safe practices in Internet browsing, downloading, emailing and instant messaging will drastically reduce your exposure and risk to security threats.