Malware: Why am I getting it?
The occurrences of malware are on the rise. What is interesting is that the causes of these "infections" arise from three main areas. First, there are many scams that try to trick the user to click on something. Second, public networks are the perfect medium through which malware can spread. Third, vulnerabilities in insecure software can be exploited without user intervention. All of this may sound confusing and, though the technical details are, the methods to fix them are easy. If you have a GNU/Linux (as described in prior articles) you don't have to worry about any of these threats and can continue using your computer any way you would like without concern. The tips in this article assume you already have at least a basic hardware firewall at your home or office.
If you are a malware distributor, one of the easiest ways for you to get malware loaded onto a computer is to trick the user into asking for it. This is generally done via an infected web site that opens an innocent looking window asking you to choose an option. The tricky thing about these windows is that every button does the some thing. If you click cancel, OK, or even somewhere on the window that isn't even a visible button, the download can start. In addition, the close button in the corner of the window may even be fictitious, so clicking that can cause the malware to download. The important thing to note is that these windows may look like a window from a program you already have, but since these windows generally don't pop up on your screen, you know something suspicious is happening.
If you are presented with a strange window that usually does not come up, don't click on it. Instead, you can safely use the keyboard to close that window. If you have Enso installed on your computer, you may already know that you can simply type "close" to close a window. Another option for almost anyone with a modern computer is to press the F4 key while holding down the ALT key. Using the keyboard is always a safe way to close windows without running the risk of downloading something.
Another popular way for malware to spread is via public networks. There is a type of virus called a "worm" virus. Worm viruses are viruses or malware that spread between computers without any user intervention. That is, worms don't require users to click on anything. These are the most dangerous types of viruses, but are the easiest against which to protect yourself. Most users are already protected from worm viruses when they are at home or their office by a hardware firewall at either location. But this doesn't protect you when you connect to public networks. Public networks describe those networks that are open to the public such as those at libraries, coffee houses, airports, hotels, conference rooms, meeting centers, and any other network which allows your computer to connect with computers of other users. The danger with this is that there is no firewall between your computer and other computers on the same network. This means that any threat on any computer connected to that network can instantly transfer to yours.
If you would like to continue connecting to public networks, you can easily protect your computer. This method is 100% effective. VPN Firewalls are normal hardware firewalls that offer an additional feature that protects your computer regardless of where it is in the world. The logistics are simple. You upgrade from your current basic firewall to a VPN firewall that stays at your home or office. You then have an icon on your computer that allows you to connect with your VPN firewall. Directly after connecting to any public network, simply click your VPN icon and your computer, within seconds, establishes a secure connection with your firewall at your home or office. This is just like carrying your firewall with you and provides 100% protection from threats that exist on neighboring computers. VPN firewalls are now being offered in more basic residential configurations starting at around $600 to protect up to about 10 computers. If you need to support more than ten computers, a small business VPN will be ideal. Some VPNs do not provide complete protection. Typically Cisco is the best, but make sure any VPN firewall you get provides at least "256bit IPSEC encapsulation for all inbound and outbound traffic". You don't have to know what that means, just know that if it supports that, you will have full protection from these viruses.
Even with all of the protection in the world, using insecure software will keep your system open to threats. The most common insecure programs are Internet Explorer and Safari. If you use either of these web browsers, it is advisable to stop using them immediately as they can allow a compromised web site to affect your computer without your intervention. In addition, we have seen instances where compromised advertising banners (those ads you see on the tops and sides of web sites) can affect computers. The issue is that generally the ads cycle. You may see one ad and then a few minutes later another one is displayed. If any of these ads are compromised your computer can be affected as soon as they are displayed. To protect yourself from these, use a secure web browser. Opera is the most secure of the full featured web browsers today, with Firefox generally coming in right after.
Take the steps needed to protect your computer and it will be there and functioning when you want it.