Archive for Computer Disinfection

Common Malware to Watch Out For

Common Types of Malware Infection

The term “virus” is often used to describe many different types of infection a computer might have and can describe any number of potential computer programs. What these programs have in common are they are typically used to cause damage, steal data, or spread across the network but they are usually designed for a malicious or criminal intent right from the start.

Malware (‘malicious software’) is any software used for negative purposes on a personal computer  and can actually be legitimate software, but which is being deliberately misused.

Adware

Short for ‘advertising-supported software’, adware is a type of malware that delivers advertisements to your computer.  These advertisements are often intrusive, irritating, and often designed to trick you into clicking something that you don’t want. A common example of malware is pop-up ads that appear on many websites and mobile applications.

Adware often comes bundled with “free” versions of software that uses these intrusive advertising to make up costs.  Commonly it is installed without the user’s knowledge and may be made excessively difficult to remove.

Spyware

‘Spyware’ is designed to spy on the user’s activity without their knowledge or consent.  Often installed in the background, spyware can collect keyboard input, harvest data from the computer, monitor web activity and more.

Spyware typically requires installation to the computer. This is commonly done by tricking users into installing spyware themselves instead of the software or application that they thought they were getting. Victims of spyware are often be completely unaware of its presence until the data stolen is acted on in the form of fraudulent bank transactions or stolen online accounts.

Virus

A typical virus may install a keylogger to capture passwords, logins, and bank information from the keyboard.  It might steal data, interrupt programs, and cause the computer to crash but  more commonly, includes a ‘ransomware’ package – see below.

Modern virus programs commonly use your computers processing power and internet bandwidth to perform tasks remotely for hackers – the first sign of this can be when the computer sounds like it is doing a lot of work when no programs should be running.

A computer virus is often spread through installing unknown software or downloading attachments that contain more than they seem but perhaps the most common is by links in emails.

Ransomware

A particularly malicious variety of malware, known as ransomware, prevents the user from accessing their own files until a ransom is paid.  Files within the system are often encrypted with a password that won’t be revealed to the user until the full ransom is paid.

Instead of accessing the computer as normal, the user is presented with a screen which details the contact and payment information required to access their data again.

Ransomware is typically downloaded through malicious file attachments, email, or a vulnerability in the computer system. This si the type of infection that seriously affected NHS machines not too long ago.

Worm

Among the most common type of malware today is the computer ‘worm’.  Worms spread across computer networks by exploiting vulnerabilities within the operating system.  Often these programs cause harm to their host networks by consuming large amounts of network bandwidth, overloading computers, and using up all the available resources.

One of the key differences between worms and a regular virus is its ability to make copies of itself and spread independently.  A virus must rely on human activity to run a program or open a malicious attachment; worms can simply spread over the network without human intervention.

No need to be paranoid!

So with all these types of infections, it would be easy to be put off using computers altogether and we have certainly met people that do the minimum possible with theirs, due to infection worries.

The fact is that we have found that the typical number of calls for traditional computer virus infections has gone down over recent times and that more often than not, infections today are the result of scams or insufficient security protection.

If you use common sense, a good security package (preferably paid for as opposed to a free version) and are cautious with what you do online and download, then you can reduce the chances of infection – but you must remain vigilant.

If you would like us to help  keep your systems safe from malware, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Controlling Windows 10 Autoplay Settings

Autoplay settings in Windows 10

‘Autoplay’ in Windows was originally designed to automatically open removable media that you have plugged into your computer, such as CD/DVD or USB media – it was meant to speed things up for you, but it has had a checkered history.

In the old days, putting in a CD/DVD or USB media with Autoplay switched on was a good way of passing viruses from one computer to another, as viruses were automatically executed when the media was opened for you. This is why good security programs today either automatically scan removable media when inserted, or ask you to allow it to do so, but some programs are better than others and some may not stop a virus from executing itself in time.

Later versions of Windows switched Autoplay off by default and Windows 10 asks you what you want to do, when removable media is inserted. However we do see customers that switch it back on, for ease of use but this does pose a risk.

Even today, it is recommended that Autoplay is switched off. You can do this by going to Settings > Devices and select ‘Autoplay’ on the list on the left. Toggle the Autoplay switch to ‘Off’, Autoplay will be disabled and you will not see the pop-up window again. This allows you or your security software to scan the removable media before opening.

Alternatively, or you just find that annoying, the next safest thing is set Autoplay to ask you what to do every time media is inserted, rather than automatically opening it. In Windows 10 you can actually select different actions for different media, for example you can set memory cards to import photos from your camera (which is unlikely to be infected). The settings for this are in the same section as described above, and you go to the ‘Choose a default’ for each media showing in the list.

There is also even greater control of individual media by going to the ‘Autoplay’ setting in Control Panel, where you can choose a default for many more options such as Pictures, Video, Audio etc. that may be present on your removable media.

Rather than just automatically opening media, the final thing that you can do is to set Autoplay to open the media in File Explorer – but as some viruses reside in an area of removable media that is read when opening its file list, this is not that much better than automatic opening. We would recommend scanning all removable media before opening it in File Explorer.

Every day people are using the same USB drive in their home and office/business computers, or putting removable media into their computers that has been used in a friend or relative’s system. This means that the weakest point is the danger point for compromising the security of your computer – so the friend/relative that may not have a good security program, or a compromised office computer are routes to computer infection.

The last thing you want is to have your computer disinfected, so it pays to reduce the risk where possible.

If you would like help in securing your computer or believe that your computer may be infected, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Potentially Unwanted Programs

Too many toolbars are PUPs

Everyone has heard of the term ‘computer virus’ and many people have also heard of the term ‘malware’. Unfortunately there is a less well-known term – a Potentially Unwanted Program (PUP).

This is software that may be clogging up your computer, yet is not classed as a virus or malware. They can cause problems when they are downloaded and installed, but what makes a PUP different is that when you install one, you are giving consent for the installation.

PUPs typically use up large amounts of system resources because they are running in the background and generally slow down your computer – sometimes drastically. From changing your search provider for no reason, adding toolbars to your internet browser or giving you pop-up adverts, PUPs can be annoying and troublesome. They are also easy to get.

Newer strains are information gatherers, providing data about your browsing habits and other information which is valuable to someone and the information is sent out for data collection purposes. Some are used to spread actual malware. Not all are as bad as this, but they all share an unwelcome trait – you are probably better off without them.

How do you get them?

Sometimes they piggy back onto other downloads, such as from software websites where there are bright green ‘Start Download’ buttons everywhere. You click on the button expecting one piece of free software and end up getting something else entirely or something in addition to what you expected.

It’s not just dodgy toolbars or free software designers either. Some big names bundle well-meaning PUPs in their downloads, for example Adobe Reader can give you the option to download an on-demand virus scanning program unless you spot it on the webpage, or a Java download asking if you want to install a toolbar, change your search engine or other setting when installing the program.

The more dodgy variety of PUP relies on you not wanting to read through the long licensing blurb displayed on the screen (the EULA). By clicking on the ‘Accept’ button, you are effectively giving them permission to install and in the case of the dodgy variety, protection from any legal action.

The question is that it’s easy to click away and miss something – you do need to watch what you click on.

Why do you get them?

“Free” software makers make money from them – for example, every toolbar installed earns them money.

Companies that give you the option to download them in addition to their own product, may also make money promoting the additional software.

PUPs are also friendly with each other, so when you get one it may bring along some of its PUP friends as well, to make some more money on the side.

Won’t my anti-virus program catch them?

Not necessarily. The issue is that technically, a PUP can be legal software in spite of the way it is used and some antivirus vendors choose to be strict about detecting them, whilst others are not so strict. Even if it is not switched on by default, many antivirus programs have a setting to configure the antivirus to look for PUPs, so it’s worth checking yours.

The important thing is to be watchful, especially when downloading and installing programs.