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Cybersecurity Best Practice Series: Antivirus

We continue our short blog series on the best ways to protect your digital life. Today we will discuss antivirus best practices.

Is there a difference between a virus and malware?

Yes and no. A virus is a type of malware. There are lots of various kinds of malware, which include some of the following:

  • Virus – a piece of code that can replicate itself and attaches to a program or file. It can spread to multiple systems and damage software, files, and hardware.

  • Trojan horse/Trojan – Trojans typically do not attach themselves to files like viruses and worms. Hackers use Trojans to trick users through a form of social engineering, for example, an e-mail attachment that appears unsuspicious. There are many kinds of Trojan viruses, but they all try to steal a user’s data or take control of the user’s computer. DDoS attacks are when a Trojan takes down a network, server, or applications by flooding the system with requests for data. The goal with DDoS attacks is generally to make these resources slow or unreachable and tend to be targeted toward organizations. For example, last fall the Mirai botnet took down Twitter, Amazon, Netflix, and a few other major websites.

  • Worm – an independent program that replicates and quickly spreads itself from system to system without a host file. This is different from viruses which need an infected host to spread. Worms spread through devices that can be shared by users, such as CDs, or Excel documents.

  • Keyloggers – a type of malicious software that secretly records information you type on your keyboard, such as passwords, credit card information, or e-mails.

  • Spyware – a type of malicious software that secretly gathers a user’s information via an Internet connection. It is like a Trojan in that it can be installed while a user is downloading something else, for example, through peer-to-peer file swapping program.

  • Adware – malicious software that automatically displays or downloads unwanted advertisements when a user is online. Adware is typically not dangerous, but the number of advertisements can be a nuisance.

  • Ransomware – malicious software that prevents a user from accessing their computer or data. The user is then asked to pay a ransom in order to unlock or access their computer.

Arming yourself with knowledge and understanding how these types of malware work is the first step to protecting your device’s health.

What are some signs I have a malware infection?

  • Slow operating system, although you should check to make sure you have enough space on your hard drive first.

  • Unexpected pop-up ads. Always avoid clicking on any suspicious windows and never respond to unsolicited emails.

  • Your friends tell you they are receiving strange messages from you on social media or via email. In this case, we recommend you change your passwords immediately, and enable two-factor authentication where applicable.

  • Your antivirus program is disabled.

  • Unusual error messages and dialog boxes.

  • Your computer crashes or restarts every few minutes.

  • You are unable to start task manager or unable to access the control panel.

Again, these are just a few of the signs your system may be infected. There are cases where your system is acting normally, but malware can be silently working in the background.

In addition to understanding how malware works and common sources that cause infection, be sure to take the following into consideration:

  • Ensure antivirus software is loaded onto your PC and enabled to scan for viruses in real time, as well as a weekly scheduled full system scan. The best time to schedule a full scan is when the computer is left on but has no user interaction.

  • Your antivirus software is up to date.

  • Your operating system and software updates are enabled. Software companies frequently push out bug fixes and vulnerability patches. Always update your system or software when prompted sooner than later.

  • Never click on suspicious, unsolicited e-mails or attachments, even if it comes from someone you know. It’s best to confirm with the other party first that they intended to send you the attachment.

  • Cover your webcam with tape when not in use. This may sound extreme, but in the event your computer becomes compromised, hackers will use your webcam to spy on you. Yes, it has happened.

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