7 April 2016
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Why sensible browsing may not be enough to protect your business from Malware

malwre, protect your business

Even if you and your staff have a sensible approach to browsing the Internet, your computers/network may still be vulnerable to Malware. In this week’s blog, we wanted to look at what Malware is, the most common forms of attack, and what you can do to protect your small business from unnecessary downtime or expense as a result of Malware.

What is Malware?

Malware is short for ‘malicious software’ and is a ‘catch-all’ term used to describe computer viruses, spyware, worms, Trojans and anything that is designed to harm your computer or steal digital information/data. Although people talk about computer viruses and malware as interchangeable terms, they are actually two separate things.

What is a computer virus?

A computer virus is a program that copies itself and infects a PC. It spreads from one file to another, and is passed to another PC when an infected file is copied or shared. Most, but not all, viruses attach themselves to executable files.

Some viruses are more damaging than others. Some will create irritating problems and glitches that you can work around, or delete or corrupt infected files, while others can stop you being able to use your PC altogether.

Anti-virus software is one of the most important defences against viruses coming into your computer network, but you should also remind your staff to be careful about what files they open or download.

Encourage them to think before they click. Has an attachment come from a reliable source? Does the filename look right or is it suspicious? A .exe file may be dangerous, but other file extensions that can run harmful code include .msi, .bat, .com, .cmd, .hta, .scr, .pif, .reg, .js, .vbs, .wsf, .cpl, .jar and more.

What is spyware?

Spyware is the name given to software installed on a PC that collects information without your knowledge and sends this information back to the spyware’s creator for them to use, usually for illegal means. Common spyware programs record keystrokes to decipher passwords, add browser toolbars, watch your search habits, or steal your passwords or credit card details.

It can be hard to spot spyware as it is designed to run without detection. Common signs that your PC or mobile device has spyware include:

  • New toolbars, links, or favourites that you didn’t intentionally add to your web browser
  • Your home page, mouse pointer, or search program changes unexpectedly
  • You type the address of a specific website into your web browser, but you’re taken to a completely unrelated website
  • Pop-up ads, even if your computer isn’t connected to the Internet
  • Your computer suddenly starts running slowly – although there may be other reasons for this, it can be a sign that spyware is running in the background

Not all anti-virus software protects against spyware, so we’d always recommend that you double-check that your system is covered, and that you remind your staff to look out for the tell-tale clues above.

What is scareware?

If you haven’t come across Scareware yet, it’s a form of Malware – read ‘scam’ – where people are frightened into downloading a fake anti-virus application, which then flags up alerts to numerous viruses that have supposedly been found but can only be cleaned if you purchase a full license.

Encourage your staff to be wary of pop-up messages warning that a virus has been found on their computer, as these may well be a form of Scareware. If you have an anti-virus program installed on your computers and/or network, let them see what a genuine message will look like.

What is a Trojan?

If you’ve ever heard the story of how the Greeks sent a wooden horse filled with soldiers into Troy, you’ll understand where computer Trojans got their name – these applications look like they’re harmless, but hide malicious code for less-than-legitimate purposes. Most Trojans create a backdoor into your computer to allow remote access. Once in, they can be used to carry out a denial of service attack (DoS) against a website, create a proxy server to conceal attacks, or even send out spam, which could get your domain blacklisted.

Trojans don’t replicate like viruses – they have to be unwittingly installed. Again, encourage your staff to check the credibility of file attachments and to avoid downloading software cracks that remove or disable certain features.

What is a Worm?

A computer worm is a self-replicating program that penetrates a network with the intent of spreading malicious code. It can quickly spread across all of the computers on the same network and can cause problems such as consuming bandwidth, deleting files or sending malicious documents to your email contacts.

As worms are designed to exploit network vulnerabilities, it’s important to make sure that your business has a firewall in place as well as up-to-date antivirus software.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a relatively new form of Malware that locks down the contents of your computer or mobile device and blocks your access until you pay over a demanded sum of money to the Ransomware creators for them to lift the restrictions. The most prevalent Ransomware viruses are Cryptolocker, Cryptowall, and more recently, TeslaCrypt. In most cases, Ransomware gives you a deadline by which to make the payment or lose of your data. Some Ransomeware demands as much to $600 (£425 approx.) to release your system back to your control.

Although anti-virus software can protect against some Ransomware, new Malware of this nature is emerging at a staggering rate as Malware creators look to monetise their efforts. The only foolproof way to protect your computer system from Ransomware is to carry out daily back-ups to an air-gapped, secure external hard drive so that you have copies of all your data.

Protecting your business against Malware

There are two important elements in the fight against Malware: personal vigilance and protective tools.

As we mentioned in our recent blog about cybersecurity, we strongly recommend keeping your staff up to date with potential Malware threats and what to look out for. Email is one of the most common ways to spread Malware, and your staff – with their human ability to understand context – are an essential line of defence.

Remind them to be wary of:

  • Emails that ask for passwords
  • Attachments with suspicious file names
  • Emails that seem to come from friends or colleagues but only contain a link or sales pitch
  • Emails that come from suspicious-looking addresses

Good browsing practices

Good browsing practices will help to protect your business from Malware attack. Ask your staff to:

  • Keep their browser up to date
  • Watch out for phishing
  • Use unique passwords for each site and keep a handwritten list in a secure place, rather than a list online
  • Use HTTPS
  • Check privacy policies on each website they visit
  • Block browser pop-ups
  • Decline to store passwords online
  • Scan documents before downloading
  • Avoid public WiFi on unprotected networks

You might also want to employ a policy about personal internet usage on your business network to help minimise the chances of employees visiting unsavoury websites that might be more prone to Malware attacks.

The right protective tools

Even with the best browsing practices, however, it is impossible to guarantee that your system won’t be exposed to Malware. Your staff may visit a legitimate and reputable website without realising that it has been compromised by a Malware attack. According to Google, more than 9,500 websites a day are infected by Malware designed to harm the site’s visitors in some way.

With this in mind, it’s essential that you have protective tools in place within your business. Anti-virus software that addresses most forms of Malware is a good starting point. You don’t need lots of protective tools, just good ones. At One Source Communications, we favour AVG Internet Security and AVG Mobile Protection, but our recommendations are always specific to our clients to offer the highest possible levels of protection.

If you could like to discuss any aspect of your IT solutions, including how to best protect your business network against Malware, give us a call at One Source Communications on 08442 570 111.

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