Information Security Services, Threat Assessment, Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing

Cyber Security Basics – Part 1

Cyber Security Basics - Viruses and other Malware

The phenomenal growth in the use of internet has raised concerns about cyber security. In Canada and elsewhere, companies that provide cyber security / information security services are in demand. There are various types of cyber security threats; we will cover them in this cyber security primer in two parts. The first part discusses about malware, the second discusses about e-mail related threats.

About Viruses, Adware and other Malware

Malware : Malware or malicious software is a generic term that covers any program / software that is designed to infest your computer. Malware performs unwanted tasks at the behest of unscrupulous enterprises that want to still your information. Malware programs can range from simple pop-up advertisements to programs that steal and transmit sensitive data. Viruses, Trojans, spyware, adware are all forms of malware. Typically, most such malware reaches your computer when you visit some sort of freeware. It can be anything from pirated software to a free game or a ‘utility.’

Virus : A computer virus is a program that attaches itself to any process that is running. It then copies itself or replicates. Computer viruses infect files and programs, interfere with your machine, or stops it from working altogether if they attack the boot sector. Computer viruses typically damage programs, delete or modify files or replicate and flood the network with traffic. They also make your machine slow.

Your machine gets infected with virus if you share files with other people whose machines are infected or if you visit infected websites.

Adware : Adware is software in which advertising banners are displayed while the program is running. The authors of these applications include additional code that delivers the ads, which can be viewed through pop-up windows or through a bar that appears on a computer screen. Adware fetches money for the software developers. Some free websites, especially that allow downloads too run Adware.

Spyware : Software that gathers information and transmits it to third parties without the explicit permission of the users is called as spyware. Types of information that is gathered includes the websites visited, browser and system information, and your computer IP address.

Browser hijacking software : Browser hijacking occurs when unauthorized code takes control of your browser settings and modifies it without your knowing about it. If your browser has been hijacked, it will typically show a different home page, always ask you to visit a particular site and / or modify your bookmarks. In addition, your browser window may be suffused with pop up ads. Your browser may get hijacked if you download and install some freeware.

Trojan : Trojans are software programs that look legitimate, but contain malicious code. It is usually embedded inside innocent looking code, usually bundled with a game or utility. Once you activate the software program, the Trojan is unleashed, stealing important information and transmitting it over the Internet without your knowledge.

How to Avoid Malware, Spyware, Adware, etc
Malware is creepy. You do not know your machine is infected until it starts acting weird or you suddenly find yourself in the lurch because your sensitive information has been compromised. Like most things in life, prevention is better than cure.

The most important thing you need to do to protect yourself is buy a good antivirus, and always keep it updated. Ideally, this should solve most of your cyber security concerns. In addition, here is what you should do:

1. Use a firewall
2. Get antispyware software - most of them are free
3. ALWAYS keep your antivirus software updated
4. Avoid downloading anything 'free' that looks too good to be true. It usually is!
5. In general, avoid websites that require you to jump from link to link, or ask you to download / install something for you to proceed.

Agencies in Canada and other countries are taking efforts to raise awareness about cyber security.

In the next part, we will learn cyber security basics about e-mails.

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