Imagine your computer is the human body. Everyday, just like your body, it is fending off foreign attacks on its interface. This may come in the form of a virus, worm, or Trojan; but whatever form the attack takes, it all shares the same terminology – malware. If you think the name sounds malicious, that’s because it is, and the Good Hands Advice team has spoken with Allstate Canada’s Cyber Security team to learn more about what malware is, its different types, and most importantly – how to protect your computer from it.
What is Malware?
According to online protection company, McAfee, malware is a catch-all term for any type of malicious software designed to harm or exploit any programmable device, service, or network. Our Cyber Security team notes that it seeks to invade, damage, or disable computers, computer systems, networks, or mobile devices, by taking partial control over a device’s operations. Like the human flu, it interferes with normal functioning.
Downloading programs, apps, or files, is the most common way to infect your device with malware. You might infect your computer or device by opening or downloading attachments or clicking on links in emails or text messages. That is why you must be vigilant when assessing where you are downloading content from. You may download a software application that looks legitimate but that is malware designed to hack your computer.
Different Types of Malware
As mentioned earlier, malware can exist in different forms. This can range from viruses, worms, Trojans, adware, spyware and ransomware. These terms may sound scary, but our Cyber Security team has broken down its definitions to provide you with a better sense of the various ways malware may infect your computer.
- Viruses. They target your computer or device by corrupting data, reformatting your hard drive, or completely shutting down your system. Viruses require human action to infect computers and mobile devices and are often spread through email attachments and internet downloads.
- Worms. A type of malware that spreads over computer networks by exploiting operating system vulnerabilities. A worm is a standalone program that can activate and replicate itself to infect other computers, without requiring any human action.
- Trojans. A Trojan horse, or “Trojan”, enters your system disguised as a normal, harmless file or program designed to trick you into downloading and installing malware. As soon as you install a Trojan, you are giving cybercriminals access to your system. Through the Trojan horse, the cybercriminal can steal data, install more malware, modify files, monitor user activity, destroy data, steal financial information, and more. Unlike worms, Trojan malware cannot replicate by itself.
- Adware. Also known as advertising supported software, is software that displays unwanted advertisements on your computer. Some adware also monitors your online behaviour so it can target you with specific ads. It can change your browser’s homepage, add spyware, and bombard your device with pop-up ads.
- Spyware. A type of malware that infects your PC or mobile device and gathers information about you, including the sites you visit, the things you download, your usernames and passwords, payment information, and the emails you send and receive.
- Ransomware. A type of malware that holds your data hostage and demands payment (ransom) to release the data back to you. It restricts user access to the computer by either encrypting files on the hard drive or locking down the system and displaying messages that are intended to force the user to pay the attacker to release the restrictions and regain access to the computer.
How to Protect Yourself
The Allstate Canada Cyber Security team has developed some tips for protecting yourself from malware.
- Avoid opening email attachments from unknown senders.
- Do not click on strange, unverified links in emails, texts, and social media messages.
- Avoid clicking on pop-up ads while browsing the internet.
- Install and use anti-virus/anti-malware software. This provides an extra layer of security when you download something. You can set it up to run automatically so that files are scanned as they are downloaded. You can also set up the software to perform scheduled scans of your computer.
- Beware of downloads. Don’t download software from untrustworthy websites or peer-to-peer file transfer networks.
- Back-up your data regularly. If your files become damaged, encrypted, or otherwise inaccessible, you’ll be covered.
- Keep your software up to date. Make sure your operating system, browsers, and plugins are patched and up to date.
To learn more about malware or ways to protect your devices from an attack, visit: www.mcafee.com/en-ca/antivirus/malware.html.
For more tips and tricks visit: www.getcybersafe.gc.ca/en/cyber-security-awareness-month.
This information has been provided for your convenience only and should not be construed as providing legal or insurance advice.