Security

Virus Types

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Not all nasties that a modern anti virus program is designed to detect and remove are viruses.  There are, in fact, several groups of programs that are undesirable to have on your PC. Here we are going to take a look at the types of threat that are out there, waiting to get onto your computer!

Virus 

This is perceived as the commonest form of threat.  This isn't entirely accurate nowadays and the term "virus" tends to be a catch all term for anything nasty that tries to get onto a computer without the owner or user knowing.

A virus is a program or code that tries to replicate by infecting another program, boot sector, partition sector, or document that supports macros. 

While most viruses do nothing but replicate, there are a substantial number "in the wild" that are designed to do a lot of damage. 

Worm 

A worm is different to a virus.  A worm is a program that makes copies of itself.  This can be from one disk drive to another, thus staying on the same machine, or it can go further afield by copying itself using email or some other mechanism. 

A worm may be designed to cause damage (such as deleting files)  or compromise the security of the computer (steal password, for example). 

A worm can arrive in a variety of forms, such as an email attachment, a joke program or as a bogus security patch. 

Adware 

Adware is a program that has a secret purpose - to secretly gather personal information about you (such as surfing habits) and send it back to another computer.  Most adware programs are the tools of unscrupulous advertisers gathering information about you

Adware programs are often downloaded from web sites (typically in shareware or freeware), email messages, and instant messengers.  Some appear to be (and actually might be) genuine programs and the user might unknowingly activate adware by accepting an "End User License Agreement" from a software program that incorporates a hidden adware program. 

Spyware 

A spyware program are stand-alone programs that are used to secretly monitor the activity on a computer.  These may be used to detect passwords or other secret information (such as banking details) and send them to another computer.

Spyware programs can be downloaded from web sites (typically in shareware or freeware), email messages, and instant messengers.   Some appear to be (and actually might be) genuine programs and the user might unknowingly activate spyware by accepting an "End User License Agreement" from a software program that incorporates a hidden spyware program. 

Trojan Horse 

This is a program that neither replicates nor copies itself, but causes damage or compromises the security of the computer.  Typically, these are sent by emails (though it does not to be email, but it is the most common form of transmission).  These programs are usually disguised as joke programs or other useful software program. 

Dialers 

These are nasty programs that use a system, without your permission or knowledge, to dial out to a premium rate telephone number, earning them money that you have to pay! 

Hack Tools 

This is the name given to tools used by a hacker to gain unauthorized access to a computer.  One type of a hack tool is a keystroke logger which is a program that tracks and records individual keystrokes.  This information is then sent back to the hacker. 

Remote Access 

These are programs that allow another computer to gain information or to attack or alter your computer.  This is usually carried out over the Internet. 

You do need to be aware that there are many examples of legitimate remote access programs and that these can be detected in virus scans.  Remember that your anti virus program cannot tell the difference between an application you installed and one that was installed without your knowledge! 

Hoax 

These are usually sent about by email in the form of chain letters.  These emails normally describing some new, devastating, highly unlikely type of virus or some form of security vulnerability that affects millions of users.  

Hoaxes can be spotted by the following:

  • They have no file attachment
  • They contain no reference to a third party who can validate the claim
  • The odd wording and tone of the message 

Check out the latest Virus Hoaxes.

Joke Programs 

There are loads of programs that fall into this category.  A joke program is a program that change or interrupt how your computer works (changes the cursor for example), or one that just causes a distraction or nuisance (an unexpected screen saver).

Prevention

Prevention is always better than cure.  Prevention starts with vigilance - taking care what you download, what dialog boxes say and reading license agreements, looking for catches (if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!).  Prevention also means having the latest anti virus program loaded and kept loaded with the latest anti virus signatures.  Check your anti virus program regular to see if the virus signatures are updating correctly - don't just assume that it is all working right!

Kingsley-Hughes


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