Not everything on the internet is genuine. There are people willing to take advantage of the lack of security that you have on your computer. It is important to understand the risks, how they can affect you and the preventative measures you can take to protect your computer from criminals.
What are the risks to my computer?
Malware (short for ‘malicious software’) is the name given to any program or piece of code created with mischievous intent, whether it is secretly stealing private information or disrupting computer systems. Malware can appear in a number of different forms such as:
- Trojan horses
A warning was recently issued following a report of malware which posed as Cheshire Police and locked users out of their computers, demanding payment to unlock the computer. Cheshire Police warned the public that this was a scam and that they should not pay out any money or their bank details.
Rogue security software, also known as ‘scareware’, is a method of luring a user into downloading fake anti-virus software which actually causes harm to your computer and can be used for disruption or stealing your information.
This can be done using pop-ups in the web browser designed to look and act like particular operating systems. By scaring the user into thinking they have a virus, they are more likely to download the fake program. The pop-up may replicate the look and feel of the user's operating system.
Once the user has downloaded the fake anti-virus software, a number of things may happen.
The program may:
- Ask for your bank details to provide 'full protection'
- Steal your personal information
- Launch other pop-up windows
- Corrupt your hard drive
If you get any message which purports to be a security alert: close all windows immediately, close the 'security alert' and use a reputable anti-virus program to scan your computer. If you do have a virus this should find and remove it.
Spyware is a program that's often downloaded unintentionally with other software. It can allow criminals to scan your computer for information stored on it, install pop-up advertisements and let viruses through. A good security program should identify and block these for you.
Trojan horses are pieces of malicious code disguised behind harmless programs. The software may function as expected at first, to give the impression of a genuine program. However, the undetected code may be causing your computer harm or giving people access to your private information.
A virus is a malicious program designed to infect your computer causing harm or disrupting computer operations. Viruses can be downloaded in a number of ways:
- From the internet as a rogue program
- Saved as an attachment in an e-mail
- Saved onto another device such as a flash/thumb drive.
Common signs of viruses
There are some common effects that would suggest your computer may have a problem. These include:
- Your computer shows more errors than usual.
- Your computer is very slow.
- You can’t update your security software.
- Strange content has appeared on your computer desktop.
- When you are browsing the internet you are directed to pages you have not chosen to go to.
- When you open a website, ‘pop-ups’ appear.
- Windows open that are difficult to close.
- There are unexpected or unknown processes running in the Windows Task Manager.
- Browser refuses to open secure websites.
What if my computer has a virus?
If you think your computer has been infected, do not use it to buy anything online or access any online accounts that contain your bank details or any other personal information.
You should run a full scan of your computer with a reputable and up-to-date virus scanner. This will remove or disable most viruses. You should then:
- Disconnect your computer from the internet or network.
- Shut your computer down.
- Do not transfer files to or from the infected PC so as not to spread the virus to other computers.
- Ensure your computer has all the correct updates.
- If, after running a full scan, the virus is still active, seek professional help from a reputable computer technician.
A computer worm is a virus which has been designed to replicate itself and spread from computer to computer. This is more of a concern if your computer is a part of a much larger network. It can spread by itself without your interaction.
If you think your computer has a worm, disconnect your computer from any network and use anti-virus software to remove the virus. If, after running a full scan you are still experiencing problems, you may need to seek the help of a reputable computer technician.
If you have used a memory stick whilst your computer has been infected then caution must be taken as some worms can be spread by this type of media.
By allowing some basic tips and learning about the different security measures you can take to protect your computer, you will be more prepared and be less at risk.
- Do not open attachments if you are not sure of the content, even if they come from friends.
- Be cautious of .exe files.
- Check the footer of emails for a virus scan receipt. This shows the email was scanned before it was sent.
- Do not open ‘free’ software such as screensavers and games. These are commonly used to spread viruses or ‘Trojan horses’.
- Be aware of scam emails that appear to be from your bank or email provider. Do not give away your personal information. Think, would the company really contact you in this way?
- Avoid forwarding unsolicited emails to colleagues and friends. These are popular ways for viruses to be spread.
- Avoid websites that ask you to download a program to run.
- Do not download unknown files.
- Use reputable search engines, such as Google, Bing or Yahoo.
- When making transactions online ensure the website you are using is secure by looking for the padlock symbol.
Anti-virus software is used for the prevention, detection and removal of harmful malware, it can be bought from shops that sell electronics or downloaded from the internet for both Mac and PC; most companies offer a free trial or even a free limited functionality version of their program.
If you have internet security on your computer, make sure that it is up-to-date. Anti-virus software is useless if it doesn’t have the latest information on common viruses. Regularly run a full scan of your computer to check for viruses and spyware.
A firewall is software or hardware that acts as a filter between your computer and the internet. Depending on your firewall settings, information that comes from the internet can be blocked or accepted, giving your computer greater security.
Operating system updates
Operating systems such as Microsoft Windows have their own built in security, and often release security updates for their system. The latest versions of operating systems are usually more secure than the previous. For example, the security on Windows 7 is greater than that on Windows XP. The same also applies for Macs.
Smartphones and tablets
The security threats to smartphones have been increasing over the last few years. As smartphones are becoming more advanced and are being used for purposes such as online banking, it makes users more vulnerable to criminal activity.
As with a normal computer, smartphones are susceptible to malware attacks and you should treat your smartphone with the same level of caution as your PC or Mac.
Mobile apps are put through a testing process before being released; however, some malicious apps can still get through. We would advise you to look at the app before you download it, check the reviews and see what others are saying about it.
Reputable security firms are developing their own applications to help secure mobile devices as well. These can be found through your phone's marketplace.