Cybercrime. And Why You Need To Know About It

>> Friday, December 11, 2009

The fact that most computers are vulnerable to malware (viruses, trojan horses, etc.) is no new news. But what is shocking is the alarming rate at which malware is getting more and more sophisticated. The earliest viruses were mere pranks, meant for gags. With time, these viruses started evolving into crazy scripts that did everything from deleting your data, to stealing your identity. Now, more than ever before, we have the dire need to safeguard ourselves against the threats out there.

2009 kicked off with a major crisis for most computer users and anti-virus makers. The Confiker worm was busy creating havoc all around the world. Targetting mostly Windows XP systems, this worm is adept at infiltrating your computer and turn it into a zombie for inclusion into a large number of malicious botnets worldwide. Infected computers are then used to attack different websites. Conficker, however, is a thing of the past now. Anti-virus makers quickly came out with patches that stopped the Conficker virus from spreading rampantly. New-age malware is getting more dangerous with each passing day.

A case in point is the Gumblar virus, which infected close to a 100,000 computers in the first 3 months of its existence. It's very difficult to detect and is dynamic in nature. What that means is that it never uses the same code to infiltrate two different computers. Gumblar's main motive is to steal your private data - passwords, bannking details, surfing habits - you name it, and Gumblar wants it. The worst part? There is no concrete patch available yet.

So, what are the most common ways through which malware attacks your computer?
  • Browser Plugins: Don't you just love those YouTube videos? Well, you won't when you know that bugs in plugins like the Adobe Flash Player (used for serving your videos), and others, are the primary intrusion points for most malware. Video plugins, PDF plugins, Active X plugins, etc. make your computer vulnerable to attack if they contain loopholes. The solution is to keep your plugins updated at all times. Better still, albeit impractical, disable them. If you are a Firefox user, use an extension like NoScript.
  • Open Ports: Ports on your computer are like electric sockets on your walls. Softwares plug into various ports on your computer or servers to provide you with the services you want. The problem, however, comes up when you leave your ports open on your system, which are not being used by any software. Hackers tend to look for open ports through which they can gain access to your computer. The best way to protect against such attacks it to use a Firewall, or to block access to all unused ports using your router.
  • Social Media/Networking Sites: So you thought Facebook is not susceptible to attacks? Think again. Facebook and other social portals are breeding farms for phishing and pharming scams. Phishers masquerade as trustworthy entities by sending you emails/IMs, which appear to be legitimate, but never are. Pharmers gain access to your information by redirecting you to fraudulent websites, when you want to go to some popular site. As of now, the only way to guard yourself against such attacks is awareness (just look at exactly what you are clicking before clicking it). You could also use updated antivirus suites and a Firefox extension called WebOfTrust (WOT). Also, remember that not every familiar face on your social network is a friend.
  • Removable Media: And last, but in no way a minnow, removable media like flash drives, iPods, even cameras and cellphones may contain malicious content. Your best bet against these is to use a regularly updated anti-virus software.
With the rampant growth of the Internet, one can only expect malware to become more sophisticated, and use increasingly complex ways to deceive users. One line of defence is not enough to keep your data and identity safe. It's best to use a combination of different solutions. Staying one step ahead is your best bet against malware. And do remember that you are responsible for the mistakes you make only. If you aren't aware, or updated, then you have yourself to blame for any security failures.

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This blog was created out of my passionate following for technology. After spending most of my life behind a monitor, and bent over a keyboard, I decided that it would be wonderful if I could pass on a bit of my knowledge to fellow netizens. And with that, I realized that it's time to start my first Blog. I hope that I will be able to keep posting quality content regularly. Please drop your comments about the blog on the Feedback page. I will do my best to respond.

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I am a final year Engineering student. This blog is my attempt to provide perspective on technological developments (computers and the Internet) from around the world. This is my first attempt at blogging and any feedback (good or bad) is welcome.

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