One of the first steps to staying safe on the internet is knowing what you're up against. Malware is a constant threat with the majority of malware infecting computers through internet browsers. Malware is the umbrella term for numerous threats to your computer security, it is an abbreviation of malicious software. Malware includes worms, viruses and trojans.
I am sure you've heard all these terms before but what do actually mean and how can you counteract these threats. So here is an explanation of the most common type of malware.
the term virus is obviously a very fitting for how a computer virus behaves. A computer virus is a programme that replicates itself onto computers usually with malicious intentions. The damage and purpose of viruses vary massively. Some viruses can make your computer part of a botnet, which is a network of linked computers that are used to send spam or carry distributed denial of service attacks (DDOS). There are also viruses that spread spyware which steals your personal data.
A virus is the most common type of malware and is usually downloaded from the internet or also can infect your computer from infected sources such as memory sticks.
The name trojan of course originates with the wooden horse of Troy and is an apt description for how it infects your computer. A trojan doesn't replicate like a virus they usually pose as a legitimate programme or are tagged on to seemingly useful software or media. Some are a nuisance but not necessarily harmful, such as adware which will display advertising. But many pose the same threat to your computer as a virus. Most anti-virus software can also detect trojans.
The thing that distinguishes worms from viruses, is that worms do not need programmes to attach themselves to. They often spread through computer networks and the internet without indication that your computer has been infected. Worms can delete files, they can lock your computer, introduce a backdoor which allow the worms creator to take control of your computer or numerous other malicious activities. A worm might also pass through a computer without causing any serious harm (beyond consuming bandwith).
Worms have been used by Governments in cyber-warfare, the most infamous case being Stuxnet which managed to damage Iranian nuclear equipment.
Phishing doesn't necessarily require any software and often imitates the same techniques as con artists. One of the most popular techniques is to imitate a trusted service provider such as your internet provider or bank and request that you supply them with information. Phishing is one of the oldest security threats on the internet and while many of the techniques are extremely obvious they're constantly updating their technique. Phishing includes imitating trusted websites in the hope users will reveal sensitive information such as passwords.
Unsecured sources of internet such as free public wifi is a popular target criminals using phishing tactics, as they could set up a man in the middle attack which gather all the data transmit between the user and the internet using free public wifi. Encrypt your browser with programmes such as ZenMate is one of the most effective ways to protect against such an attack.
What are the first steps to protecting yourself?
There are numerous ways that malware can harm you, many will try and steal personal data such as bank account details or login information. Some will hijack your computer to make them part of botnets. There is even a common malware known as a cryptolocker that locks your computer, one case displays a warning on computer screens claims that its from the police who have detected that the user had illegally downloaded stuff and they will not unlock the computer until the user pays a fine, it's a mixture of phishing and a trojan. Such malware that attempts to extort money from you is called ransomware.
Good anti-virus software and a firewall will help protect you against viruses, trojans and worms. But the anti-virus software has to be regularly updated, also updating your browser regularly is an important step to protecting yourself particularly against worms. don't respond to or click through links in emails from unknown sources. Don't download files from untrusted sources. You have to be cautious online and skeptical.
A good step to staying safe online is keeping your activities hidden by encryption. Online criminals can use information as simple as your IP to tailor phishing and viruses to make their efforts more effective. ZenMate is a simple browser add-on, that encrypts your browser traffic, hides your IP, helps keep you safe when using public wifi and it's also an unblocker that will help you avoid geo-restrictions. ZenMate is free and available across a range of platforms.