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Beyond Safety

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Critical Security Information: What You Need To Know

The Internet is a two-edged sword; access to knowledge, goods, and services on an unprecedented scale on the one hand, and danger on the other. Threats to our computers - both at work and at home - abound. The Internet can be a dangerous place. The articles below examine the threats and provide guidance in identifying and navigating threats that attack our business, our computers, your identity, your children and your money. Fore-warned is fore-armed.

Need solutions to protect yourself? Click here for the best in home-based security software and top-notch recommendations.

A Malware Primer

Click on the following links to find out more about common and not-so-common threats.

  • Viruses and Worms
  • Keyloggers and Trojan Horses
  • Spyware
  • Protecting yourself from Internet Fraud
  • Kid Safety
  • Spam
  • Protecting your data
  • Protecting your network
  • Viruses and Worms

    What is a virus?
    A virus is a piece of computer code that attaches itself to a program or file so it can spread from computer to computer, infecting every computer as it travels. Viruses can damage your software, your hardware, and your files. Generally, viruses are activated only by the user opening an infected file. This could be a document, e-mail message, or a program downloaded from the Internet. You might open a document in Word or Outlook, an e-mail in Outlook, or execute a program deemed safe but in fact harboring a virus.

    What is a worm?
    Worms are very similar to viruses, but are considered a different threat because they do not rely on user interaction to replicate. A virus needs personal interaction and exists as a file on a computer until an unsuspecting user activates it by opening the file harboring the virus.

    Like a virus, a worm is designed to copy itself from one computer to another. The most striking characteristic of a worm is the fact that it works without user action. It does that by taking control of features on the computer that can transport files or information. Unfortunately, a worm can travel alone and replicate itself in great volume. It has the tendency to send copies of itself to everyone listed in your e-mail address book, and their computers would then do the same, creating a domino effect.

    Worms have the ability to propagate themselves and utilize networks such as the Internet to carry this out. Because of this propagation ability, worms can be very dangerous to large networks and have threatened in the past to bring down the entire internet.

    Most worms carry a "payload." This payload can be anything from a computer backdoor to a denial of service attack. Sometimes the payloads can be nasty, and there are worms that have been designed to delete files on certain dates.

    Worms that do not carry payloads should still be considered harmful because they have a tendency to eat away at network resources - eventually consuming 100 percent of those resources.

    What is a Trojan?
    A Trojan is a computer program that appears to be useful but actually does damage. They spread when unsuspecting people are lured into opening a program because they think it comes from a legitimate source. You can also get them in software you download for free. Never download software from a source that you don't trust.

    How do viruses and worms spread?
    Virtually all viruses and many worms spread by opening and running infected programs - like e-mail and the files that are sent along with e-mails.
    • Never open anything that is attached to an e-mail message unless you were expecting the attachment and you know the exact contents of that file.
    Other viruses, worms, and Trojans spread through programs you download from the Internet or from virus-ridden computer disks that you borrow from friends or even buy in a store.

    In a more technical sense, there are two basic methods utilized to spread infections:

    1. Exploiting Vulnerabilities: Worms will infect one computer and use that computer as a base to scan for other vulnerable computers. Often these vulnerabilities are problems with operating systems, but sometimes they can be holes in popular software. At Blanchard we have a system called an Intrusion Detection System in place that constantly monitors scan requests from potential worms. If the scan pattern used by worms is detected on our network, the IDS isolates the computer with the worm, tricks it into thinking that the scanning is going well, and alerts our network administrators.

      Worm creators will often base their worm exploit on recently-published vulnerabilities. Most people who use computers don't keep up to date with this type of information, and these people are caught off guard. To protect your machines at home, see “Reducing your virus risk” below.

    2. Social Engineering: Social engineering in worm and virus lingo is the act of lying to someone or tricking them into doing something they shouldn't be doing.

      The worms and viruses that use this method of propagation target our curiosity and impulsiveness. Nearly everyone knows by now the dangers of clicking on attachments in your email, yet people always fall for the same old trick time after time. By giving the attachments intriguing subject lines, worm creators have managed to keep infecting people who should know better.

      Worms and viruses don't only use e-mail for infecting others. Sometimes they will use instant messaging programs or blogging communities. This type of propagation works because people trust their friends. If a friend sends you a link or file via your common Instant Messaging program, chances are you will trust that file. Unfortunately worm and virus creators know this as well and program their worms to send files from your account, thus tricking your contacts into running them.
    How can I tell if I have a virus?
    You might not know you've contracted a virus, even when you open and run an infected program. Here are a few of the more common symptoms:
    • Your computer may slow down.
    • Your computer may stop responding.
    • Your computer may crash and restart every few minutes.
    • Your computer may exhibit strange behavior, such as issuing the sound of a ricocheting bullet at random intervals. This happened to me and it is very disconcerting. I found myself ducking a lot until I managed to clean up the infection.
    • When you power up, you can be stuck staring at a blank screen.
    Reducing your virus risk
    You must work to continuously improve your computer's security by keeping your software up to date and maintaining current anti-virus software.

    You may protect your computer in three ways:
    • Keep your operating system updated. If you are using a Windows Operating System, click here to get the latest updates.
    • Use an Internet firewall
    • Use up-to-date anti-virus software
    An easy way to protect your system is to purchase and install an Internet Security Suite. Click here for a list of software packages that do it all.

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