Back to Basics: Today’s Advice for Tomorrow’s Threats
To stay a step ahead of malware that continues to both develop and circulate, computer users need to understand the current threat landscape and emerging trends. Take a look below as we walk you through the basics of malware and how infections spread. Also, find out what to expect in 2008, and the tools and practices you should use to stay safe.
We often hear terms like spyware, adware, and viruses used interchangeably. While all can be classified as malware – malicious software that can put your personal information at risk – there are important differences between these threats.
- Adware is used for marketing and tracking. It tends to be more annoying than malicious, with pop-up ads and other unwanted behavior. However, some adware is helpful and welcome to users (Weatherbug, for example).
- Spyware attaches itself to individual computers to perform functions like tracking Internet navigation and stealing information.
- Viruses use computers to spread from one to another. They often perform a function that can erase files and processes from your computer.
- Worms are similar to viruses and can replicate both within the victim’s computer as well as by spreading to others on the network through various means.
Methods of Infection
As many as 90 percent of U.S. home computer users have been infected with spyware, reports show. How do you get infected? Spyware can worm its way into your computer even if you are careful while surfing the Internet. Malicious applications are typically bundled as a hidden component of freeware or shareware programs that can be downloaded from media-supported sites.
The most common methods of infection are through exploits of unpatched operating systems, web browsers, and application/software programs. Other methods of attack include e-mail, peer to peer file sharing, downloading, and instant messaging.
A Look at What’s to Come
Security experts may dispute what specific threat will top this year’s threat lists, yet most are in consensus about one thing: cyber crime will continue to grow more sophisticated and professional in 2008.
Reports of sensitive personal data stolen from companies, government agencies, colleges, and hospitals are already at record highs. Theft of personal data has more than tripled the past year, with over 162 million records reported as lost or stolen, according to USA Today.
Spear phishing (highly targeted phishing) and attacks on custom-built applications are two of the key threat trends that cyber criminals are now shifting their focus to, according to the trusted SANS Institute’s annual report on Internet security.
While emerging trends have been highlighted in the Sans Institute’s Top 20 Internet Security Risks report, attackers have continued to raise the stakes in older targets as well. Frequent attack targets listed include Web browsers, Office software, and media players.
How to Stay Safe
The best ways to stay safe online are to prepare your PC with the right tools, and to use caution and common sense online. Take a look at the essentials of staying secure and malware-free, below.
- Real-time spyware protection is a must for 2008 and beyond. Use Ad-Aware 2007 Plus or Pro to prevent spyware and malware from infecting your computer in the first place, with real-time monitoring.
- Make sure to use an up-to-date firewall and anti-virus program. These are two other forms of protection that are imperative for the New Year.
- Install updates to your operating system and other applications as soon as they become available to protect yourself from exploits.
- Use an updated Web browser to make sure you’re taking advantage of its current safety features. Consider using an alternate browser (like Firefox or Opera) which may lower your risk of malware attacks.
- Be wary of e-mail attachments and links in both e-mail and instant messages. Use caution even when the message appears to come from a safe sender, as identity information in messages can easily be spoofed.
- Protect private sensitive data with encryption and digital file shredding software. You can give Lavasoft’s Privacy Toolbox a try, which combines both of these programs in one application, by taking advantage of the free 30-day trial.
- Create complex passwords (comprised of letters, numbers, and symbols) and change them on a regular basis.
- Know what you are getting before you download – take the time to read End User License Agreements.