Viruses are the granddaddy of computer security threats, and in the dark, distant past, they seemed bent on simply wreaking havoc upon the systems in which they existed. But despite our best attempts to banish them forever from our computing environments, they’re not only alive and well, but stronger and smarter and more capable than ever.
Let’s revisit that traveling salesman we met earlier. Now finished with his globetrotting trek, he’s finally returned home to his wife and kids and the apparent safety of his own PC. In his basement office, there’s no one watching over his shoulder or filming him as he surfs the Net and conducts his business, nor is anyone actively phishing him, nor does he visit scam-heavy sites. But that doesn’t mean he’s untouchable.
Though he knows nothing about it, a “Trojan” has crept from the virtual slime and lodged itself in the depths of his hard drive. Trojans are a form of virus that sneak in unbeknownst to the user and attack PCs stealthily from the inside – just like the Trojan horse of old – and right now this Trojan has consistently evaded our salesman’s virus detection software and essentially reinvents itself with each reboot. It now grabs most important personal data – passwords, banking info, credit card numbers, and the like – even before that data becomes encrypted.
How has this Trojan found its way to this specific computer? If not through one of the avenues described earlier, then perhaps attached to a downloaded file such as a video codec. Or via an otherwise trustworthy email, a website with an executable file, or a peer-to-peer file-sharing service. There’s really no shortage of Trojan-friendly sources, and that’s just one of the reasons they’re considered one of the most troublesome examples of malware in existence.
Still, our hero is somewhat lucky. If this had been a “backdoor” Trojan, it may have opened holes in his system that would allow hackers not only to steal just about anything they wanted, but to access email, use his Internet connection to attack other computers, and effectively take control of his PC.
How to avoid:
• Recent surveys indicate that upwards of 80% of all computer users own and use an anti-virus/Internet security application. However, these surveys also say that 75-percent do not perform regular updates. Though it goes without saying that everyone should have some form of Internet security, it cannot be stressed enough that those very same people must also keep their software current. There’s no way that a half-year-old package will thwart threats that appeared only yesterday.
• Watch where you surf. “Naughty” sites in particular do not have a great track record when it comes to security breaches.
• Back up your data! Though the shock and the hassle of discovering a Trojan has infiltrated your system is bad enough, the entire scenario is that much worse if you end up losing all that you have created.
• Unsolicited pop-up windows that initially look beneficial or interesting, but inevitably request your name or email address, should always be avoided.
• If you find yourself the victim of a Trojan and just can’t seem to shake it, you may want to reformat and reinstall your entire system. Good thing you have backups!