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Can You Keep your Computer from Catching Cold?

21 Apr 2013 | Posted Under Internet
By Carl Weiss

NEWSFLASH: A new strain of bird flu was recently detected in China that is infectious to humans and has so far killed four of the sixteen people infected.  As a precaution, hundreds of thousands of poultry have been killed in China and the US Center for Disease Control has been put on high alert.

When it comes to biological threats to people’s health, the governments of the world are up to the task of containing the spread of disease.  This is one area where red tape is routinely cut and bureaucracy stifled in
Malware logo Crystal 128.
Malware logo Crystal 128. (Photo credit:Wikipedia)
 order to preserve the public good.  Isn’t it a shame that this isn’t the case when it comes to computer viruses?  What’s even worse is the fact that the number of computer viruses worldwide has been rising at an almost exponential rate.

Did you know that in 2008, it was estimated the number of known computer viruses stood at in excess of 1 million, an increase of 468 per cent on the previous year?Figures suggest at least five malware samples emerge on the Internet every two minutes and 15 to 20 new Trojans are released every half hour.” 

The figures as of 2013 are as high as 17 million according to antivirus maker Symantec.  Far from being a high priority on the minds of government officials, in many cases the laws that do exist actually work to 
prevent government cooperation.  Even within our own borders, the powers that be have yet to create effective legislation that offers any hope of curtailing the proliferation of malware.  Prosecutions against malware developers are few and far between.  In the meantime, everyone from hacker collectives to foreign governments are busy 24/7 cranking out ever more insidious ways of infecting your computer.

Here Are the Headlines

June 12, 2012 ZDNet: On Sunday Microsoft reported that “…some components of the malware have been signed by certificates that allow software to appear as if it was produced by Microsoft.  

Dec. 26, 2012 PRWeb: New viruses that are disguised to look like a government program have been spreading around the world. The new type of virus generally blocks users from accessing their desktop, documents, and programs until the user pays a ransom (generally a hundred dollars or more) to the cyber criminals who created the virus. 

Jan. 13, 2013 The US Department of Homeland Security is advising people to temporarily disable Java software on their computer to avoid potential hacking attacks.

Once inside your computer, hackers can do everything from directing you to clone sites designed to get you to reveal your passwords, to activating your computer’s camera in order to spy on you, to holding your system hostage, or even hijacking your machine in order to infect yet more systems.  The good news is that with the right combination of software and a little online discipline, preventing all but the most concerted of hacking efforts is relatively simple to accomplish.  The bad news is that once infected, your system and your life may never be the same.

Forewarned is Forearmed

The best way to keep from being victimized is to run at least two layers of antivirus & anti-malware/anti-
English: Malware statics on 2011-03-16 (Panda ...
English: Malware statics on 2011-03-16 (Panda Security) Español: Estadísticas de Malware el día 16-03-2011 (Panda Security) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
spyware software on all your systems, plus a site advisory such as Web of Trust to clue you into suspicious websites.  This needs to include all of your PC’s and laptops, as well as tablets and smartphones.  While most people have at least an antivirus program working on their PC’s and laptops, it isn’t at all unusual for them to have no protection on tablets and especially smartphones.  This is a vulnerability of which cybercriminals are well aware, so you need to plug this hole in your defenses right away if you hope to avoid getting hacked.  (You also need to update most anti-malware packages and scan your system weekly to keep up to date.)

"There are many types ofmalware that can infect your computer, but the types that can steal your data are simply called "information thieves." They are made up of things like keyloggers, screen recorders and memory scrapers. They perform a variety of tasks, from recording what keys you press to taking screenshots of your desktop at random intervals. This information is then sent to the malware's designer, showing them whatever you typed or viewed on your computer. Using this method, a hacker can steal any data from computer passwords to credit card numbers." 

However, even the best firewall and antivirus programs cannot offer you complete protection if you insist on clicking on links leading to suspicious websites or opening email attachments without first scanning them for malware.  Software like Web of Trust uses a stoplight arrangement where suspicious sites are flagged with a red light and trusted sites are given the green.  If you click on a site flagged with a red light, that’s like leaving your car in the parking lot of a shopping mall with the ignition running and a “Steal Me” sign on the windshield.  Site advisory systems will only warn and not prevent you from accessing potentially harmful websites.

There’s an App for That

With the explosion of smartphones and tablets have come an explosion in “Free Apps.”  Needless to say, this has also resulted in an explosion of infected systems.  Understand from the outset that there is no such thing as a free app, just as there is no such thing as a free lunch.  In the best case, by downloading a free app onto your system, you will also load adware or spyware onto your system, as well as providing the developer with contact information that can be sold to the highest bidder.  In the worst-case scenario, you will download a virus, worm or Trojan horse that is designed to provide the developer with access to your system, or even provide them with the means to control your computer and do with it what they wish.

The humorous IT security expert, who sports numerous tattoos and has a penchant for heavy metal music, can hack into your mobile phone with a single SMS.  He can then remotely listen to your calls, read text messages and even access the password to your online bank account.
“It’s creepy, isn’t it?” said Ferguson, who is global vice-president for security research for IT firm Trend Micro, as he demonstrated the hack. Yet, many users still refused to believe how vulnerable they are when they use mobile devices, he added. 
In order to prevent picking up these unwanted hitchhikers, you need to only download apps and software from trusted vendors.  You also need to access software and app review sites such as in order to find out what other people think about any program you are thinking about adding to your system.  Many mobile security suites will even scan apps as they are downloaded, preventing viruses and other forms of malware from attaching themselves to your device.

Has Your Computer Got the Sniffles?

The problem with most people is that they don’t take any corrective action until their system is thoroughly infected.  Many people ignore obvious warning signs that there system has been compromised, such as slow performance, dropped calls, data plan spikes and higher than expected phone bills.  By the time they take their device to an IT professional, the damage can be so great that in some cases the infected hard drive needs to be completely wiped in order to correct the situation. 

Of course the cost of remedial action is nothing compared to the loss of privacy, financial information or even identity that can occur if a device is infected. Just as with the flu, while it is impossible to absolutely, positively eliminate the threat of malware, with a little preventative maintenance and an ounce of online discipline, you can prevent your computers from catching cold.

Carl Weiss is President of W SquaredMedia Group, a company devoted to keeping clients on the cutting edge of online technology.  You can join Carl on every Tuesday at 4pm Eastern for Working the Web to Win

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