Thursday, February 14, 2013

12 security terms you need to know

Here is some pretty good stuff from Kim Komando's web site today.

"There are quite a few terms for computer security threats and they aren't always clear cut.

Most people, including me at times, use "virus" as a general term for malicious software. However, the actual term for malicious software is "malware."

Malware comes in dozens of different styles. There's everything from Trojans to spyware to rootkits. The amount of different ways a hacker can attack you would make your head spin. And you can't defend against all of them the same way.

Let's start with some security terms that keep popping up in the news.

Drive-by download - When malware takes advantage of security flaws in your programs to download to your computer without your permission. All you have to do is visit a website that hosts the malware and your computer is infected.

Zero-day exploit - A serious security flaw that exists in a piece of software before it's released. If hackers can find and use it before the developer releases a patch, they can do serious damage.

Backdoor - A secret entrance to your computer that lets someone bypass your security. You won't even know they're inside! Backdoors come from program flaws or are intentionally built into software by the developer.

Drive-bys, zero days and backdoors are all dangers of flawed or out-of-date software. Three of the worst offenders are JavaFlash and your browser. So be sure to keep these programs updated or disabled.

Security software can protect you from these dangers, too. You can find dozens of free security programs here.

Now, on to the malware:

Virus - A piece of software that can copy itself and spread, just like a biological virus. This is the most recognizable term because it's been around the longest.

It can infect different parts of a single computer or grow to infect multiple systems. In the past, viruses would destroy your data or cause other chaos. These days, they're a bit more refined.

Worms - An advanced type of virus that replicates and spreads with little or no action on your part.

You can get a worm as a Trojan (more on that in a bit) or from a drive-by download. If you're on the same network as a computer with a worm, it can infect your machine with little effort.
While worms are serious if left unchecked, any up-to-date anti-virus software can handle them.

Botnet - A collection of computers that has been infected with a specialized virus, usually a worm. The hacker that created the worm can control the infected computers, sometimes called "zombies."

A botnet can send spam, launch attacks on websites, funnel stolen money around the world, or anything else a hacker wants. In fact, most of the spam you get is from botnets.

The best way to stop a botnet is for everyone to have security software installed and up to date. Most people with zombie computers don't use security software and have no clue their computer is compromised.

Trojan - The most popular kind of attack online. Also called a Trojan horse, which makes sense if you know Greek mythology.

Like the original Trojan horse, a computer Trojan looks like something good - a cool video or photo - but when you bring it inside your computer, it turns out to be malware. Click here to learn one way malicious files hide as common file formats.

Trojans are usually spread through email attachments and often act as a backdoor for hackers. Once installed, a Trojan can steal information or install other, more dangerous, malware.
An easy way to avoid Trojans is to protect yourself from spam and know how to spot a scam email.

Rootkit - A more advanced version of a Trojan. "Root" in computer lingo almost always means increased or unlimited control. If a rootkit is installed on your computer, a hacker can do just about anything they want to your machine.

Even worse, a rootkit can hide itself from your operating system and security software, making it hard to detect and remove. Security software is better at dealing with rootkits than it used to be, but it still isn't a pleasant experience.

Like a Trojan, the best way to stop a rootkit is to avoid installing it in the first place. Follow the same precautions you would take to avoid a Trojan. And keep your programs and anti-virus software updated, as new rootkits appear regularly.

Ransomware - Spooks you into surrendering your hard-earned cash. Sometimes called "Scareware," this nasty malware can take many forms.

One common version is a fake anti-virus program that claims you have multiple viruses and need to pay for a full version of the program to get rid of them. Having real security software installed is your best defense.

Nastier versions take over your computer and accuse you of inappropriate activity such as viewing child porn or illegal fire-sharing. Some versions just claim to have encrypted all your files. Either way, the ransomware demands payment to give your system back.

Paying up won't do anything but encourage the hackers. You'll need a heavy-duty anti-virus program to get rid of ransomware. AVG's bootable anti-virus disc is a good solution. Make sure you read the tutorial, though!

Spyware - Focused specifically on gathering information about you. It could be as serious as trying to find out your bank information or as minor as advertisers trying to grab your personal data for targeted ads.

Either way, you might need a special type of security software to take it out. Spybot Search & Destroy does an excellent job of stopping spyware in its tracks.

Keyloggers - A program that copies everything you type and saves it to a file or sends it to the keylogger's owner. Some can even take pictures of your screen or take over your webcam.

Though keyloggers are technically spyware, they're so dangerous they get their own category.
Hackers do use keyloggers, but you're more likely to get one from someone you know.

Keyloggers are a favorite of suspicious spouses and significant others. Companies also use them - legally - to check up on employee computer use.

Normal security software might not be able to shut these down once they're on your computer. To get rid of them, follow the steps in this must-read tip.

Learning how these viruses work isn't all you need to do. Here are three more tips on how to deal with hackers online.