July 23, 2012

The reasons why someone would create malware are similar to those of a street criminal inflicting harm on innocent others. Some are in it for identity theft, attempting to steal credit card or bank information. Some are hired by others, particularly seen in businesses, to infect a company’s competitors or bring down a company’s entire system. Some do it for the thrill of exposing the shortcomings of security in software these days. Some do it to get revenge on others. And some simply for the pure pleasure of the thrill they get from threatening the security of other’s personal information.

Regardless of the reasons, those who create malware attempt to affect as many users as possible. There are different types of malware. Often consumers use these terms interchangeably, but there is a difference, and we hope to educate our customers so they are aware of the various threats.

First there are Viruses. These are spread, similar to how viruses are spread from a person to another. There is a carrying agent (one program or file) that she passed along to another. They are often spread over a network, or through removable disks.  They also can be spread through file attachments that are activated upon the opening of the file by the user.

Secondly are Worms, which affect users without them doing anything, for they spread on their own. Similar to earthworms, which replicate themselves often in great numbers on one’s property, computer worms can copy themselves by the hundreds on your system. They can slow your network, crash your system, or bring your computer to a halt.

Trojans are yet a third classification of malware. Fully named Trojan Horse, this type of malware is actually a malicious program that guises itself as safe software to the user. Therefore, these are infectious usually by user download, and/or installed in conjunction with another safe program. Unlike viruses, Trojans do not infect other files, and unlike worms, they don’t replicate. But Trojans can cause disaster to a user – they are known for stealing passwords, account numbers, user data. Known as Backdoor Trojans, some have the ability to gain access to and control your computer completely

There is also a subgroup of Trojans known as Spyware. This is malicious software that collects all your personal information stored on your computer and electronically submits it to the one who distributed the Trojan. This can range from obtaining your passwords to websites you visit to recoding every single keystroke you make. Most dangerous in this is the risk that one is recoding your strokes as you do banking, business or other financial transactions. Spyware significantly slows down a system, so would be a user’s first warning sign of a Trojan infestation.

Most users are at least familiar with the terms Virus, Worms and Trojans, enough to know they are dangerous. We hope that the above descriptions increase awareness of the variations in threat. But there are also other less common types of malware that we also wish to highlight.

There is a new type of software that has embedded malicious advertising, called Adware.These types of programs are typically free and it’s the advertising that pays for the malware developer’s time and work. Some types of adware are designed to track web usage and targets users for advertising tailored to their interests and lifestyle.

Similar to being held captive by a robber, there is a type of Malware called Ransomware. This program essentially takes your computer and your files hostage. It prevents users from accessing their OS, and has the ability to encrypt all the files stored. A variation of this type of malware is Blackmailware, which threatens to alert police if the user has certain types of files stored on their computer.

Unauthorized persons can also take over your computer through Rootkits. These malware programs will hide themselves, which the author runs code on your computer, makes changes and takes administrative ownership. Often rootkits are hidden in the boot sector of the disk.

When infected with Bot Software, computers turn into almost ‘zombies’. They become a member of what is called the botnet, controlled by the botmaster. The zombies that attack the computer do so via sending spam or attacking the network without the owner knowing.

All of the above are important types of malware for users to be aware of. Since technology evolves every day, this is by no means an exhaustive list. It is important that users keep their computers updated with the most current security patches designed to fill in the gaps that malware creates. Most security patches can be downloaded by the user. You can also call and schedule an in-shop System Optimization and let our techs increase the safety of your computer.  Be sure to also install and keep current strong antivirus  software. And most important – be safe when computing. Don’t open attachments from sources you don’t know, don’t click on links without careful examination, and don’t install software until you do full research beforehand.  We will be more than happy to assist via phone consulting customers that need more assistance with any of these recommendations. Please call us at 505-954-4400

ECS IT Solutions Partners