Computer viruses are much different than what they were 20 years ago. New malware steals your identity, and viruses are even written for mobile devices. This article describes the common and especially nasty viruses that are used in identity theft and stealing your data.
Computer malware of today is much different than it was in the 1990s. In the 1990s, you mainly needed to watch for small executable files that would hijack your hard drive’s boot record, delete or corrupt important files or email itself to your Outlook contact list. Today, virus writers have other objectives, although it’s still possible that they can attack your computer files using older methods. Here are some common malware programs and the signs to watch that indicate your computer might be infected.
Ransomware is one of the newest forms of viruses and it’s also the nastiest. Ransomware is a software program that automatically searches your hard drive for specific file extensions such as .PPT, .DOC, or .XLS. Some ransomware software also searches for images on the hard drive such as JPG or PNG files. These files are usually important to the end user and that’s what the ransomware creator banks on. The malware encrypts these files and displays a message that you must pay a ransom to get the decryption key. The ransom doubles if you don’t pay within a certain amount of time. Because the files are encrypted with strong security, you can’t get them back without the key. Fortunately, the key is usually stored with the malware software, so some users are able to get back files without losing data.
Even if you pay the ransom, there is no guarantee that the malware writer will release your files. Some people pay the ransom hoping they get the key in return. Experts suggest that you shouldn’t pay the ransom, but some people pay the ransom anyway.
These files usually hide in executable files that are advertised as software updates. The objective is to get you to pay a ransom, so you know you have ransomware if you receive the blackmail message. Even if you don’t pay the ransom, it’s imperative that you clean the virus off of your computer. If you don’t clean it off your computer, the virus can encrypt more files at a later date.
Browser hijackers are hard to identify if you don’t pick up on the behavior patterns. These viruses send you to a different home page such as a gambling site or an ad site. Users generally think the browser software developer or a search engine company is responsible for the changes. Some browser hijackers also create popups or unwanted adware. These popups could happen randomly regardless if the browser is open, or the malware creators try to hide the adware by only opening it when the browser is active. These programs are more annoying than malicious. You can perform a search online to find ways to disable the software or use antivirus software to clear the program from your hard drive.
Keyloggers and Identity Theft
Keyloggers are small programs that run on your computer and capture each keystroke. Good keyloggers even keep track of the software used to enter the input from the keyboard. They can even be configured to take screenshots of your computer screen at specified intervals. These programs then silently send the information to a central server where the hacker can identify the programs and information. Clearly Keyloggers are a very dangerous type of computer virus. Keyloggers are generally used to capture account and password information. The hacker uses this information to then log in to your accounts and steal data. Hackers can steal minor account details or critical information such as credit card numbers and banking credentials. Keyloggers are also used for identity theft to gain access to your social security data.
DoS Bots or Botnets
Today’s bandwidth and web servers are too powerful for a simple denial of service (DoS) attack. Today, hackers need several computers to perform a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. DDoS attacks use several computers to send requests to web servers all at once. In a standard DoS attack, a program is used to send multiple requests to a web server. Today’s servers are able to mitigate these requests with little slowdown issues. A DDoS uses thousands of computers to flood a web server. The result is that small web servers aren’t able to handle the flood of requests and shuts down.
For a hacker to use several machines at once, he must infect computers with software used to control them. When the hacker has enough infected computers, he sends them a message silently and the computers flood the target with requests without the owners’ knowledge. These computers are said to be a part of a botnet. These viruses give hackers the ability to control your computer without your knowledge, so they can also steal information and read your emails. The biggest red flag is when the botnet attacks a web server. Your computer slows down and your bandwidth is saturated with requests, which means web pages load slowly for you.
In some cases, the malware writer wants to spread emails that contain a phishing site. Spam viruses have two parts. The first part infects your computer, and the second part grabs a list of contacts and emails them a link to the hacker’s phishing page. Because the email comes from a trusted source, your recipients are more likely to open the email and enter information. The hacker relies on the trust factor you have with your email contact list.
These viruses work in the background, so there aren’t many signs that your computer is infected. The biggest red flag is in your email. The virus chooses contact addresses randomly, so old contacts might not be valid anymore. When the virus attempts to contact old email addresses, you receive an error message in your inbox that says the message delivery failed. Usually, these error messages display the email message sent by the hacker. If you don’t recognize the message, you know that your computer is infected. These error messages are also useful when your email account is hacked. Hackers randomly target recipient emails that no longer function, so you receive bounce-backs that alert you to a hacker or malware running on your computer.
Mobile App Viruses and Spyware
Most people don’t consider the relationship between mobile devices and viruses. Mobile viruses are slowly popping up in the industry, and these viruses are meant to steal mobile data. Users add banking and personal information to mobile phone storage every day. If you don’t protect that data, you give virus makers the ability to steal it and silently send the data to a hacker. Most mobile phones don’t have firewall applications that alert users to Internet connections, so mobile users are completely unaware that data is being sent from a mobile device.
BYOD (bring your own device) security is also a new concern for most IT managers who must allow access to Wi-Fi hotspots for the company but protect rogue viruses from penetrating the corporate network.
Mobile device operating systems have better security in place to sandbox each app from the others, but you should still take precautions. There are some mobile device apps specifically for tablets and smartphones to protect against these new viruses.
When your hard drive crashes because of a computer virus, you lose information but recover later on. When these new viruses take effect, they can leave you with years of recovery from identity theft and losing your critical data. Take precautions with your sensitive data and always run good antivirus and firewall software on your computer and mobile device.