Malware the worst thing about the internet, whether it breaks up a session of lazy browsing, or crashes the computer and corrupts a user’s data. Whatever the cause, malware is a nasty side effect of using the internet that everyone takes the risk of running into, but there are several steps that can be taken to prevent an attack or infection. In the recent attacks that shut down over 100 websites with warnings from Googles safe browsing technology, it is important to know that the actual malicious code was not hosted on the blocked websites themselves, but rather in the advertisement host providing ads to the sites. After the MadAds server was hacked and had malware uploaded to it, the virus laden code was spread to any site with a MadAds commercial block, resulting in many browsers refusing to show the infected pages.
This is a twist on the usual method through which malware is distributed to machines. Instead of having to uploaded the malicious code to individual websites, the attackers only needed to break into one place, and let it do their work for them. Malware is the worst thing about the internet because it often sneaks onto users’ computers along with something they actually wanted, be it a song, a piece of software, or the latest game. Sites that host malware often look somewhat questionable to the experienced internet surfer, but it is easy for anyone to be caught unaware if the download link looks promising or the proper precautions are not taken. Those who had their browsing blocked by a warning of malware were lucky that was all that happened, as malicious codes hidden in the advertisements of the pages could have easily gained access to their machines simply by the pages being viewed. Computers save portions of web browsing data known as cookies in order to save online settings, and the cookies are a favourite target of malware distributors.
The goal of malware distributors is often to glean personal information from the machines their code infects, be it financial information, address books, or search terms. Data siphoned from infected machines can be used to hijack bank accounts, lock down machines, or spread the virus through email contacts. Once the malicious code is in the computer’s registry, it often performs as any other program, running in the background and carrying out its task while keeping a low profile. Often the only way to spot it is seeing a strange task with a name the user does not recognize, or a virus scan. Particularly nasty bugs can lock the screen of a computer and demand exorbitant amounts of money be sent to the malware’s creator in order for control to be returned to the user. Once this happens to someone, it becomes all too clear that malware is the worst thing about the internet.
However, many are unaware that malware is the worst thing about the internet until they are struck with, often leading to cataclysmic losses of data. After an encounter many wonder how they can prevent it from happening again. There are two commonly accepted approaches to protecting a machine from viral attacks, and it is often recommended to employ them both. The first has to do with browsing habits and general knowledge. For example, if searching for a song watch out for the file extension and the size of the file itself. Music is generally a .mp3 or .flac (Full Lossless Audio Codec) file, with some other formats being less common. The size of an average length .mp3 song ranges from seven to ten megabytes, this also serves as an important clue. Should a user come across a file masquerading as a song, but it has a .exe (executable file) extension, or is much larger or smaller than other songs, chances are it is a piece of malware in disguise, be it trojan, worm, or keylogger. Do not download these files, they are not friendly. The second approach involves protection at the PC level with anti-virus and firewall programs. There are many options here as well, but careful browsing habits combined with Microsoft Security Essentials or Malwarebytes Anti-Malware programs to catch anything that slips through should be enough to keep the average user’s machine safe and running smoothly.
By Daniel O’Brien