Malware

Here is some information on various types of infection that can be found lurking on the internet.

Viruses

What is a computer virus?
A computer virus is not unlike a biological virus. It passes to a computer system, wrecking havoc on the inner workings of that particular system, then moves on to a different computer, repeating the process, much like what happens with the common cold. Seemingly, once a person you know and are close with, whether it be a co-worker, family member or a friend, catches a cold, it will run rampant throughout everyone’s bodies that they come in contact with. A computer is no different from us in these terms, if it comes in contact with an infected machine, most likely that virus will seize that opportunity to spread itself to a new host, this being your computer.

How does a virus spread itself?
How does a virus accomplish all this you might ask? Well, a virus is a small executable program that attaches itself to other programs. When you then run those programs, the virus itself runs as well, continuing to spread itself and preserve its lifecycle. As an example, say a virus attaches itself to your Microsoft Word program. Every time you then use Word, the virus is activated too, spreading itself to perhaps your favorite chat program. The next time you go to chat, the virus activates itself again and continues to spread. Here, inlays, its strength and its weakness. The strength is what was just outlined a moment ago. The more programs it attaches itself to, the more havoc it can wreck. The weakness is that it must replicate to survive. A virus is only a success if it moves on to a new host. Once you pinpoint a virus and take away its ability to mass-produce, you have defeated it by simply denying it the one thing it must do to live on and thrive, which is to replicate.

How can I protect myself from this?
Protecting yourself against most viruses will involve 3 simple steps. The first thing to do is to download a competent virus protection program. This step is like installing a dead bolt lock on your front door. Sure, you may never get someone trying to break into your house, but if you do, you will sure be glad you have that extra line of defense to thwart such an attack. The peace of mind gained from doing so far outweighs any time or money spent on having to do so. However, just downloading an anti-virus program is not going to be enough. This leads up to our second step, which is to update your anti-virus software. This is nothing more than simple maintenance, much like a flu or an immunization shot that you get before getting sick, to help prevent such things to happen to our systems. It is vital to give your anti-virus software these updates, or shots, to keep your system strong to fend off new types of viruses. The third step is much easier than the first two, as no updates or downloading is required. Simply use common sense. Do not download emails or programs from people you do not know. That is comparable to inviting strangers into your house and leaving them unsupervised and trusting that they won’t steal or damage anything. Sure, some people would not do that, just like some programs or emails from strangers won’t infect your computer with viruses. But you’ll be sorry you made this a common practice once you get one that did infect your system. Your anti-virus software, as great and helpful as it is, is not the perfect solution. It needs your help as well to make sure your computer system stays clean. By keeping the software itself up to date and by applying common sense, you can help yourself stay free of viruses and all the headaches that they involve.

Worms

What is a worm?
A computer worm is a self-replicating program that has the ability to copy itself from one computer to another. Computer worms and viruses are often mistaken for one another. While they do share many similarities, the way they survive is different. A computer worm is independent, as it does not need another program for itself to latch onto like a virus does. What a worm can do to your system can vary greatly. It can delete or alter files stored on your hard drive. It can take control of your email program and use it as a launching pad to send off incredible amounts of email. It just all depends on the creator of the worm and what they set it up to do. A side effect on this is that it can incredibly slow down your system, as long as a worm is active on your computer or network, it is most likely hogging all your bandwidth and system resources in efforts to duplicate itself and carry about its assigned tasks.

How does a worm spread itself?
The main way a worm moves from system to system is via computer networks. Using a network, a worm can duplicate itself over and over. One of the more well known worms, named Code Red, copied itself over and over almost half a million times in a span of 12 hours. The way a worm travels from one system to another is usually through security holes found in the operating system on the machine it is trying to infect. Those that use Windows operating systems NT, 2000 or XP may remember the recent RPC Worm that attacked security holes found in all these operating systems. It scanned your system until it found the appropriate hole it was looking for that is found in all of those operating systems, and then exploits that hole and copies itself onto your system.

How can I protect myself from this?
It may seem like protecting yourself from worms is mission impossible. How are you supposed to know what computer ports a worm is looking for and sees as a potential security hole for it to exploit? Well fortunately, you do not have to. As with protecting yourself against viruses and trojans, running and maintaining your anti-virus software is crucial. You may be thinking that anti-virus software may just look for viruses. However, most reputable protection programs also have worm definitions in their databases. Also, you still need to be careful of what programs you download and use. If you are not familiar with it, do not use it. Doing so can make your system vulnerable to these type of attacks. Another important step is to keep your operating system as up to date as your anti-virus software. Installing those windows updates may seem unimportant and annoying, but failing to do so can be much more aggravating than taking the few moments to keep yourself protected. When Microsoft finds holes that people could possibly take advantage of with these worms, they create these updates to block the holes that the worm could use to infiltrate your system. With these security holes blocked, the worm has no way to access your system and moves on. A few seconds of installing updates will seem like nothing if you should ever have to find yourself with an infected system.

Spyware and Adware

All Internet users should be aware of programs or files that can potentially cause problems for their computer. Spyware/Adware (referred to as Spyware for the rest of this document) is one such type of technology that can compromise your online experience if you are not aware of how to protect yourself and your computer.

What is Spyware?
Spyware is the name for any program that collects information on which web sites you visit on the Internet. If you are unaware that the information is being collected and distributed, the program is “spying”. Companies use Spyware so that they can adjust their ads to show services or merchandise similar to what you have shown interest in before. Also, interested companies can use the data as research information, as if you were participating in a survey you never signed up for.

Should I be concerned?
While it is good to be aware of the effects that Spyware can have on your computer, it is a personal choice whether or not to take action. Some people are very concerned about protecting their privacy on the Internet. Others may only view Spyware as a nuisance. Whether this is viewed as an invasion of privacy or not, the programs can alter your system’s files and cause you some headaches while browsing. Because of this, most people noticing the effects of Spyware want to take action against these programs.

How can I tell if there is Spyware on my computer?
If you see any new or different toolbars on your Internet Explorer program, you could have some form of Spyware on your computer. This is also likely if your homepage has changed unexpectedly, or you are getting a lot of pop-up windows. Spyware can install itself without your consent.

How did this software get on my computer?
Not all Spyware comes in without your permission. One way you may have agreed to install it unknowingly is through accepting the terms of a license agreement. Spyware can be legitimate if you have given your permission to have the data collected from your computer. This information could be hidden in the privacy statement that you agree to when downloading or installing a new program. If you read the fine print, you could find that you are being asked if it is all right to install hidden programs or to give certain individuals or vendors access to your computer. If you allow it, this is a legal agreement to have Spyware on your computer.

Programs that spy on your browsing without your permission can sneak in when you click on certain banners or pop-ups. Be careful when clicking on banner ads while browsing; these can invite illegitimate advertisers to collect data from you.

How do I protect myself?
Certain settings can help keep Spyware programs from leaving cookies on your computer. There are browsing options you can set to allow, deny, or restrict cookies. However, blocking cookies is usually not recommended, as it will allow you to only view sites that do not use cookies. Since blocking cookies causes such restrictions, a better way to protect your computer from Spyware is to download a program to try and block the cookies that you don't want, and still allow the ones you need. Read all the information offered to make sure you are downloading a legitimate program. The following link gives examples of programs that are available to download that block Spyware:

Please note: This software is not manufactured, nor is any guarantee on its functionality made, by netINS, Inc.. If you experience problems with these programs, please contact the manufacturer of the software directly.

If a Spyware blocker you have downloaded doesn’t work for you, make sure to uninstall it completely before trying to download another one to try. If you don’t, the program can identify a competing program and cause certain files to become inactive.

If you know what’s causing your browsing problems then you know what to try and take action against. With a knowledgeable approach to blocking Spyware, your browsing experience can be an enjoyable one.


Extra Links:

Please note: This software is not manufactured, nor is any guarantee on its functionality made, by netINS, Inc.. If you experience problems with these programs, please contact the manufacturer of the software directly.

Trojan Horse

What is a Trojan horse?
According to legend, during the Trojan War the Greeks gave a large wooden horse to the Trojans. The Greek's hid soldiers in the horse to sneak into the well-guarded city of Troy. In today's computer age, a Trojan horse is a destructive program that masquerades as a benign application. For example, a Trojan can be disguised as literally anything, such as a game, music, or movies, ETC.

What can a Trojan horse do?
A Trojan horse can be very destructive and allows anything from damaging your software, accessing your financial accounts, or may even prompt law enforcement to investigate you. A Trojan horse normally installs a back door program. This back door is what a malicious hacker or “cracker” uses to access your computer so that anything they do on your computer will be traced back to you. Examples of this malicious behavior include:

  • Stealing passwords
  • Installing a key logger
  • Running denial of service attacks
  • Disabling your anti-virus
  • Cracking into other computers/networks
  • Installing an e-mail proxy to send unsolicited e-mail
  • Storing Illegal files or pictures

How do I get infected?
Typically Trojan's are downloaded from a web site, newsgroup, e-mail attachment, or peer to peer network. Trojans are executable files, which means they will have an extension like ".exe", ".bat", ".com", ".vbs", etc. Use caution when opening executables and only download files from people or oragnizations you trust.

How Can I protect myself from Trojans?
1. Do not open a file unless you know what the program is and trust the sender.
2. Keep your operating system up to date by installing the latest security patches.
3. Protect your computer by running current anti-virus software.
4. Run a firewall. While this does not protect your computer from being infected it helps alert you when strange applications try to access the Internet.
5. Use secure passwords on your computer. Secure passwords should be alphanumeric and at least six characters. This helps to prevent damage when a computer is infected.
6. If you think you may have a Trojan on your computer run a program like “The Cleaner” to try and remove it.