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Malware, Botnets, and Spyware, Oh My!
Viruses are harmful programs that are intended to be transmitted from device to device to cause havoc. Viruses are created to give some level of device access to the criminals that designed them.
"Spyware" and "adware" are terms that are assigned to various technologies. What sets them apart is that they can download themselves onto your device without your knowledge (perhaps when browsing an unsafe site) and that they can make your computer do things that you don't want it to do such as clicking on ads, and in some cases, track your online activity and steal usernames and password.
Botnets are entire collections of malware infected computers (commonly called zombies) that are connected to a command-and-control server. This connection allows criminals to remotely control your computer. By controling entire fleets of zombie computers, criminals can use your computer's resources for financial gain or revenge through a variety of methods. These include storing your financial information, clicking on ads on specific sites to drive ad revenue, or even spam a website until the website is overloaded and cannot provide service to legitimate web traffic.
This type of malware locks and encrypts the victim's files and demands the victim to pay a ransom to retrieve them. Cybercriminals load malware on the victim's computer through social engineering methods such as spam, phishing, and accessing questionable links or downloads.
Secure Solutions - What You Can Do
- Keep a good security scanner: It is of utmost importance to keep your devices clean. Antivirus scanners like Avira can help defend against viruses and malware that are contained on your device or the electronics connected to your device. There are many great scanners, but we can recommend Avira.
- Require devices to make sure it's really you: Enable two-step authentication, also known as multi-factor authentication, on the things that are most valuable. This can be when you log into a device or service, multi-factor authentication will require you to not only put in a password, but also take a second step like enter a code from a text message, use a fingerprint or some other biometric method, or require a 'push' from a second device. This way, cybercriminals cannot access your information with simply a cracked password! Speaking of...
- Use secure passwords: The strongest password is not simply one word spelled in a difficult way with weird characters. The strongest passwords are actually passphrases that are at least 12 characters long that are unique and memorable - just to you. More information from NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) here.
- Back up critical data: Try to imagine a situation where you lost all of your data. Everything gone! Now what comes to mind as the most important things that you wish you had back? Family photos? Video archive? Now what is the most important data you would need to work and operate in the next two weeks? Past emails? Crucial work documents? Excel files? Back all of it up! This means backing it up using a cloud service, an external hard drive, or even as simple as a USB! You will thank yourself when that dreaded day comes. See also our page on Back It Up.
- Questionable link/site? Don't risk it: Links, attachments, and too good to be true offers are the number one way that cybercriminals gain access to your data or machine. It is not worth the risk. Even if you know the source, delete it. It's possible that source was compromised. More information on Spam and Phishing here.
While there are many cybercriminal methods, we can take steps to explore the web and use services in a safe and secure way.