Threatsaurus - Washington County, NY

Threatsaurus - Washington County, NY
The A-Z of computer and
data security threats
In collaboration with the
Center for Internet Security
The A-Z of computer
and data security threats
Whether you’re an IT professional, use a computer
at work, or just browse the Internet, this book is
for you. We explain the facts about threats to your
computers and to your data in simple, easy-tounderstand language.
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A-Z of threats
Security software and hardware 53
Safety tips
Malware timeline
Everyone knows about computer viruses. Or at least they think they do.
Thirty years ago, the first computer virus
appeared, Elk Cloner, displaying a short poem
when an infected computer booted up for the
50th time. Since then, cybercriminals have
created millions of viruses and other malware—
email viruses, Trojans, Internet worms, spyware,
keystroke loggers—some spreading worldwide
and making headlines.
Many people have heard about viruses that fill
your computer screen with garbage or delete your
files. In the popular imagination, malware still
means pranks or sabotage. The early 1990s saw
global panic about the Michelangelo virus. In the
2000s, when millions of computers were infected
with the SoBig-F virus and primed to download
unknown programs from the web at a set time,
antivirus companies scrambled to persuade
Internet service providers to shut down servers
to avoid a doomsday scenario. Hollywood movies
like Independence Day reinforced this perception,
with virus attacks signaled by flashing screens
and alarms.
However, this is far from the truth today.
The threats are no less real now, but they are
low-profile, well-targeted, and more likely to be
about making cash than creating chaos.
Today, malware is unlikely to delete your hard
disk, corrupt your spreadsheet, or display a
message. Such cyber-vandalism has given way
to more lucrative exploits. Today’s viruses might
encrypt all your files and demand a ransom.
Or a hacker might blackmail a large company by
threatening to launch a denial-of-service attack,
which prevents customers from accessing the
company’s website.
More commonly, though, viruses don’t cause any
apparent damage or announce their presence
at all. Instead, a virus might silently install a
keystroke logger, which waits until the victim
visits a banking website and then records
the user’s account details and password, and
forwards them to a hacker via the Internet.
The hacker is an identity thief, using these details
to clone credit cards or plunder bank accounts.
The victim isn’t even aware that the computer has
been infected. Once the virus has done its job,
it may delete itself to avoid detection.
Another trend is for malware to take over your
computer, turning it into a remote-controlled
zombie. It uses your computer without your
knowledge to relay millions of profit-making
spam messages. Or, it may launch other malware
attacks on unsuspecting computer users.
And as social networks like Facebook and
Twitter have grown in popularity, hackers and
cybercriminals are exploiting these systems to
find new ways of infecting computers and stealing
Hackers may not even target large numbers
of victims any more. Such high-visibility
attacks bring unwanted attention, and antivirus
companies can soon neutralize malware that is
widely reported. In addition, large-scale exploits
can bring hackers more stolen data than they can
handle. Because of this, threats are becoming
more carefully focused.
Spearphishing is an example. Originally, phishing
involved sending out mass-mail messages that
appeared to come from banks, asking customers
to re-register confidential details, which could
then be stolen. Spearphishing, by contrast,
confines itself to a small number of people,
usually within an organization. The mail appears
to come from colleagues in trusted departments,
asking for password information. The principle is
the same, but the attack is more likely to succeed
because the victim thinks that the message is
internal, and his or her guard is down.
Stealthy, small-scale, well-targeted: for now,
this seems to be the way that security threats
are going.
What of the future, though? Predicting how
security threats will develop is almost impossible.
Some commentators assumed that there would
never be more than a few hundred viruses,
and Microsoft’s Bill Gates declared that spam
would no longer be a problem by 2006. It’s not
clear where future threats will come from, or
how serious they will be. What is clear is that
whenever there is an opportunity for financial
gain, hackers and criminals will attempt to access
and misuse data.
A-Z of
Advanced Persistent Threat (APT)
An advanced persistent threat is a type of targeted attack. APTs are
characterized by an attacker who has time and resources to plan an
infiltration into a network.
These attackers actively manage their attack
once they have a foothold in a network and
are usually seeking information, proprietary or
economic, rather than simple financial data.
APTs are persistent in that the attackers may
remain on a network for some time. APTs
should not be confused with botnets, which are
usually opportunistic and indiscriminate attacks
seeking any available victim rather than specific
Adware is software that displays advertisements on your computer.
Adware displays advertising banners or pop-ups
on your computer when you use an application.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Such
advertising can fund the development of useful
software, which is then distributed free (for
example, Android apps and browser toolbars,
many of which are adware funded).
Adware becomes a problem if it:
ÌÌ installs itself on your computer without your
ÌÌ installs itself in applications other than the one
it came with and displays advertising when you
use those applications
ÌÌ hijacks your web browser in order to display
more ads (see Browser hijacker)
ÌÌ gathers data on your web browsing without
your consent and sends it to others via the
Internet (see Spyware)
ÌÌ is designed to be difficult to uninstall
Adware can slow down your PC. It can also slow
down your Internet connection by downloading
advertisements. Sometimes programming flaws
in the adware can make your computer unstable.
Some antivirus programs detect adware and
report it as potentially unwanted applications.
You can then either authorize the adware program
or remove it from your computer. There are also
dedicated programs for detecting adware.
Anonymizing proxy
Anonymizing proxies allow the user to hide their web browsing activity.
They are often used to bypass web security filters—e.g., to access blocked
sites from a work computer.
Anonymizing proxies hold security and liability
risks for organizations:
ÌÌ Security: The anonymizing proxy bypasses
web security and allows users to access
unauthorized webpages
ÌÌ Liability: Organizations can be legally liable if
their computers are used to view pornography,
hate material or to incite illegal behavior. There
are also ramifications if users violate third-party
licenses through illegal MP3, film and software
Autorun worm
Autorun worms are malicious programs that take advantage of the
Windows AutoRun feature. They execute automatically when the device
on which they are stored is plugged into a computer.
Autorun worms are commonly distributed on
USB drives, automatically infecting computers
as soon as the USB is plugged in. AutoPlay is a
similar technology to AutoRun. It is initiated on
removable media prompting users to choose to
listen to music with the default media player, or to
open the disk in Windows Explorer. Attackers have
similarly exploited AutoPlay, most famously via
the Conficker worm.
On patched and newer operating systems,
Microsoft has set AutoRun to off by default.
As a result, autorun worms should pose less of
a threat in the future.
Backdoor Trojan
A backdoor Trojan allows someone to take control of a user’s computer
without their permission.
A backdoor Trojan may pose as legitimate
software to fool users into running it.
Alternatively—as is increasingly common—users
may unknowingly allow Trojans onto their
computer by following a link in spam email or
visiting a malicious webpage.
Once the Trojan runs, it adds itself to the
computer’s startup routine. It can then monitor
the computer until the user is connected to the
Internet. When the computer goes online, the
person who sent the Trojan can perform many
actions—for example, run programs on the
infected computer, access personal files, modify
and upload files, track the user’s keystrokes,
or send out spam email.
Well-known backdoor Trojans include Netbus,
OptixPro, Subseven, BackOrifice and, more
recently, Zbot or ZeuS.
To avoid backdoor Trojans, you should keep your
computers up to date with the latest patches
(to close down vulnerabilities in the operating
system), and run anti-spam and antivirus
software. You should also use a firewall, which
can prevent Trojans from accessing the Internet
to make contact with the hacker.
Boot sector malware
Boot sector malware spreads by modifying the program that enables your
computer to start up.
When you turn on a computer, the hardware looks
for the boot sector program, which is usually on
the hard disk (but can be on a CD/DVD or Flash
Drive), and runs it. This program then loads the
rest of the operating system into memory.
Boot sector malware replaces the original boot
sector with its own, modified version (and usually
hides the original somewhere else on the hard
disk). The next time you start up, the infected boot
sector is used and the malware becomes active.
Boot sectors are now used by some malware
designed to load before the operating system in
order to conceal its presence (e.g., TDL rootkit).
A botnet is a collection of infected computers that are remotely controlled
by a hacker.
Once a computer is infected with malicious
software (bot), the hacker can control the
computer remotely over the Internet. From then
on, the computer is a zombie, doing the bidding
of the hacker, although the user is completely
unaware. Collectively, such computers are called
a botnet.
The hacker can share or sell access to control
the botnet, allowing others to use it for malicious
For example, a spammer can use a botnet to
send out spam email. The majority of all spam is
distributed this way. This allows the spammers to
avoid detection and to get around any blacklisting
applied to their own servers. It can also reduce
their costs because the computer’s owner is
paying for the Internet access.
Hackers can also use botnets to launch a
distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS). They
arrange for thousands of computers to attempt
to access the same website simultaneously, so
that the web server is unable to handle all the
requests reaching it. The website thus becomes
inaccessible. (See Zombie, Denial-of-service
attack, Spam, Backdoor Trojan, Command and
control center)
Browser hijacker
Browser hijackers change the default homepage and search engine in your
Internet browser without your permission.
You may find that you cannot change your
browser’s homepage once it has been hijacked.
Some hijackers edit the Windows registry so that
the hijacked settings are restored every time you
restart your computer. Others remove options
from the browser’s tools menu, so that you can’t
reset the start page.
transparent, or opaque, layers on a webpage.
This technique can trick a user into clicking on a
button or link on a page other than the one they
were intending to click on. Effectively the attacker
is hijacking clicks meant for one page and routing
them to other another page, most likely owned by
another application, domain, or both.
Browser hijacking is used to boost advertising
revenue, as in the use of blackhat Search Engine
Optimization (SEO), to inflate a site’s page ranking
in search results.
Although these threats don’t reside on your PC,
they do affect your browsing experience.
Browser hijackers can be very tenacious, as well
as sneaky. Attackers use clickjacking, also known
as a UI redress attack, by inserting multiple
Brute force attack
A brute force attack is one in which hackers try a large number of possible
keyword or password combinations to gain unauthorized access to a
system or file.
Brute force attacks are often used to defeat a
cryptographic scheme, such as those secured by
passwords. Hackers use computer programs to
try a very large number of passwords to decrypt
the message or access the system.
To prevent brute force attacks, it is important to
make your passwords as secure as possible.
(See How to choose secure passwords)
Buffer overflow
A buffer overflow occurs when a program stores excess data
by overwriting other parts of the computer’s memory, causing
errors or crashes.
Buffer overflow attacks take advantage of this
weakness by sending more data to a program
than it expects. The program may then read in
more data than it has reserved space for and
overwrite parts of the memory that the operating
system is using for other purposes. This may
allow unauthorized code to execute or crash the
Contrary to popular belief, buffer overflows
don’t just happen in services (such as Windows
operating systems) or core programs. They can
occur in any application.
Command and control center
A command and control center (C&C or C2) is a computer that controls
a botnet (a network of compromised computers). Some botnets use
distributed command and control systems, making them more resilient.
From the command and control center, hackers
can instruct multiple computers to perform their
desired activities.
Command and control centers are often used
to launch distributed denial-of-service attacks
because they can instruct a vast number of
computers to perform the same action at the
same time. (See Botnet, Zombie, Denial-ofservice attack)
Cookies are files placed on your computer that allow websites
to remember details.
When you visit a website, it can place a file called
a cookie on your computer. This allows the
website to remember your details and track your
visits. Cookies can be a threat to your privacy, but
they cannot infect your computer.
Cookies were designed to be helpful. For example,
when you visit a website, a cookie can store your
preferences or login information so you don’t have
to re-enter them the next time. Cookies also have
benefits for webmasters, as they show which
webpages are most used, providing useful input
when planning a redesign of the site.
Cookies can be stored on your computer as small
text files without your knowledge or consent, and
they contain information about your activity on
that website. When you revisit the same website,
this data is passed back to the web server, again
without your consent.
Websites gradually build up a profile of your
browsing behavior and interests. This information
can be sold or shared with other sites, allowing
advertisers to match ads to your interests, display
consecutive ads as you visit different sites, and
track the number of times you have seen an ad.
You can limit the use of cookies to track your
behavior using the security and privacy settings in
your Internet browser.
Data leakage
Data leakage is the unauthorized exposure of information. It can result in
data theft or data loss.
Data leakage prevention is a top concern for
organizations. Data leakage is the failure to
protect confidential information including the
identities of their workforce, their customers and
the general public.
Users may post and share data without fully
understanding the risks and consequences of
potential data leakage.
A variety of techniques can be used to prevent
data leakage. These include antivirus software,
encryption, firewalls, access control, written
policies and training. (See Data loss, Data theft,
How to secure your data)
Data loss
Data loss is the result of the accidental misplacement of data, rather than
its deliberate theft.
Data loss frequently occurs through the loss
of a device containing data, such as a laptop,
tablet, CD/DVD, mobile phone or USB stick. When
these are lost, the data is at risk of falling into
the wrong hands unless a strong data security
technique, such as encryption, is used. (See Data
leakage, Data theft, How to secure your data)
Data theft
Data theft is the deliberate theft of information, rather than
its accidental loss.
Data theft can take place both inside an
organization (e.g., by a disgruntled employee),
or by criminals outside the organization.
ÌÌ 2011: Sony Corp suffers breaches that place
100M customer accounts at risk, costing the
company up to $2 billion
Criminals often use malware to access a
computer and steal data. A common approach
is to use a Trojan to install keylogging software
that tracks everything the user types, including
usernames and passwords, in order to access the
user’s bank account.
ÌÌ 2011: Servers are breached for Global
Payments, a payments processor for Visa,
exposing information on as many as 7M card
In 2013, for example, names, Social Security
numbers and other sensitivie data about
individuals involved in pending court cases
were stolen from the State of Washington
Administrative Office of the Courts.
Some other recent data thefts include some of
the biggest in history:
ÌÌ 2011: Email marketing company Epsilon
leaks millions of names and email addresses
from customer databases of Best Buy, Marks
& Spencer and Chase Bank. Initial costcontainment and remediation is estimated at
$225M, but could reach as high as $4B
ÌÌ 2012: More than 6 million poorly encrypted
LinkedIn passwords are published on an
underground criminal website.
ÌÌ 2013: Over 50 million names, email addresses,
and encrypted passwords are stolen from
LivingSocial, a popular daily deals website.
Data theft also occurs when devices containing
data, such as laptops or USB drives, are stolen.
(See Data leakage, Data loss, How to secure
your data)
Denial-of-service attack
A denial-of-service (DoS) attack prevents users from accessing a
computer or website.
In a DoS attack, a hacker attempts to overload
or shut down a service so that legitimate users
can no longer access it. Typical DoS attacks
target web servers and aim to make websites
unavailable. No data is stolen or compromised,
but the interruption to the service can be costly
for an organization.
The most common type of DoS attack involves
sending more traffic to a computer than it can
handle. There are a variety of methods for DoS
attacks, but the simplest and most common is to
have a botnet flood a web server with requests.
This is called a distributed denial-of-service
attack (DDoS). (See Botnet, Command and
Control Center, Zombie)
DNS hijacking
The Domain Name System (DNS) is the phone book of the Internet.
It allows computers to translate website names, like,
into IP address numbers so that they can communicate with each other.
A DNS hijacking attack changes a computer’s
settings to either ignore DNS or use a DNS
server that is controlled by malicious hackers.
The attackers can then redirect communication to
fraudulent sites. DNS hijacking is commonly used
to redirect users to fake login pages for banks and
other online services in order to steal their login
It can also be used to redirect security sites to
non-existent servers to prevent affected users
from updating their security software.
Document malware
Document malware takes advantage of vulnerabilities in applications that
let you read or edit documents.
By embedding malicious content within
documents, hackers can exploit vulnerabilities
in the host applications used for opening the
documents. Common examples of document
malware include specifically crafted Word, Excel
and PDF documents.
The infamous data breach of RSA Security in
2011 started when an employee opened an
Excel spreadsheet containing carefully disguised
malware. (See Exploit)
Drive-by download
A drive-by download is the infection of a computer with malware when a
user visits a malicious website.
Drive-by downloads occur without the knowledge
of the user. Simply visiting an infected website
may be sufficient for the malware to be
downloaded and run on a computer. Malware
exploits vulnerabilities in a user’s browser (and
browser plugins) in order to infect their computer.
Hackers continually attack legitimate websites
in order to compromise them, injecting malicious
code into their pages. Then, when a user browses
that legitimate (but compromised) site, the
injected code is loaded by his/her browser, which
initiates the drive-by attack. In this manner, the
hacker can infect users without having to trick
them into browsing a specific site.
To defend against drive-by downloads, you should
use an updated browser, coupled with endpoint
security software that incorporates web security
filtering. (See Exploit)
Email malware distribution
Email malware refers to malware that is distributed via email.
Historically, some of the most prolific virus
families (e.g., Netsky or SoBig) distributed
themselves as file attachments in email. These
families relied on users double-clicking an
attachment, which would run the malicious code,
infect their machine and send itself to more email
addresses from that computer.
Nowadays, hackers have changed their focus
and mainly use the web for malware distribution.
They still use email messages, but mostly as a
way of distributing links to malicious sites, not
for carrying malicious file attachments. However,
even today some malware families such as Bredo
use email distribution to run malicious code on
user machines.
You should use strong anti-spam technology
in conjunction with current endpoint security
software and updated system operating software.
In addition, user education can raise awareness
of email scams and seemingly legitimate
attachments or links. (See Botnet, Exploit,
Phishing emails, Spam)
An exploit takes advantage of a vulnerability in order to access or
infect a computer.
Usually an exploit takes advantage of a specific
vulnerability in an application and becomes
ineffective when that vulnerability is patched.
Zero-day exploits are those that are used or
shared by hackers before the software vendor
knows about the vulnerability (and so before
there is any patch available).
To secure against exploits, you should make sure
your antivirus or endpoint security software is
active and your computers are fully patched.
This includes the operating system (OS) as well
as applications. (See Vulnerability, Drive-by
download, Buffer overflow)
Fake antivirus malware
Fake antivirus malware reports non-existent threats in order to scare the
user into installing malicious software and/or paying for unnecessary
product registration and cleanup.
Fake antivirus malware is commonly known
as scareware. Typically it is installed through
malicious websites and takes the form of fake
online scans. Cybercriminals attract traffic to
these sites by sending out spam messages
containing links or by compromising legitimate
websites. Frequently they also attempt to poison
the results of popular search engines so that
users access the malicious distribution sites when
conducting a search.
Fake antivirus malware is financially motivated
and is a big earner for cybercriminals. The
large profits provide significant resources for
investment into creation and distribution of fake
antivirus. Hacking gangs are very good at rapidly
producing professional-looking bogus websites
that pose as legitimate security vendors.
Using up-to-date, legitimate antivirus or endpoint
security software will protect you against fake
antivirus software. Another line of defense
includes user awareness training regarding the
threats posed by clicking on suspicious links.
Hacktivism is the term used to describe hacking activity that’s typically
for political and social purposes, attacking corporations, governments,
organizations and individuals.
Hacktivist groups may deface websites, redirect
traffic, launch denial-of-service attacks and steal
information to make their point.
institutions. Another group released 90,000 email
addresses of U.S. military personnel in an attack
on a federal government contractor.
A hacktivist group dominated headlines in 2011
with attacks on Sony, PBS, the U.S. Senate, the
CIA, FBI affiliate InfraGard and others.
The variety of targets seems to show that almost
any institution could be at risk, although only a
small minority is affected by hacktivist attacks.
Other hacktivist groups have engaged in what
they consider to be civil disobedience through
distributed denial-of-service attacks against
websites of governments, banks and other
Hoaxes are reports of false and unsubstantiated claims, in an attempt to
trick or defraud users.
A hoax could be an attempt to solicit money,
an attempt to install malware, or an attempt to
consume bandwith (by having users forward a
hoax email).
Hoaxes in the form of emails do some or all of the
ÌÌ Warn you that there is an undetectable, highly
destructive new piece of malware
ÌÌ Ask you to avoid reading emails with a
particular subject line, claiming it contains
ÌÌ Claim that the warning was issued by a
major software company, Internet provider or
government agency
ÌÌ Claim that the malware can do something
ÌÌ Urge you to forward the warning
ÌÌ Claim that liking a story or individual on
Facebook can result in financial windfalls,
charitable contributions and free prizes
Many users forwarding such hoax emails can
cause a deluge of email, which may overload mail
servers. Hoax messages may also distract from
efforts to deal with real malware threats.
The best defense against hoaxes is to educate
yourself and your users. It is also helpful to search
online for information about suspected hoaxes.
A honeypot is a form of trap security specialists use to detect hacking
attacks or collect malware samples.
Honeypots are frequently used by security
specialists or researchers to gather information
about current threats and attacks.
There are many different types of honeypots.
Some consist of machines connected to the
network that are used to capture malware. Others
provide fake network services (e.g., a web server)
in order to log incoming attacks.
Internet worm
Worms are a form of malware that replicates across the Internet
or local networks.
Worms differ from computer viruses because they
can propagate themselves, rather than using a
carrier program or file. They simply create copies
of themselves and use communication between
computers to spread.
The Conficker worm is an example of an Internet
worm that exploits a system vulnerability to
infect machines over the network. Such worms
are capable of spreading very rapidly, infecting
large numbers of machines.
Some worms open a “back door” on the computer,
allowing hackers to take control of it. Such
computers can then be used to send spam mail.
(see Zombie)
Keylogging is the proces of secretly recording keystrokes by an
unauthorized third party.
Keylogging is often used by malware to steal
usernames, passwords, credit card details and
other sensitive data.
Malware is a general term for malicious software. Malware includes
viruses, worms, Trojans and spyware. Many people use the terms malware
and virus interchangeably.
Antivirus software usually detects a wider
range of threats than just viruses, and can be an
effective defense against worms, Trojans and
Mobile phone malware
Mobile phone malware is malware intended to run on mobile devices, such
as smartphones or PDAs.
Thousands of mobile malware variants have
been discovered since late 2010, when the first
malware samples for Android and iOS devices
were identified.
Today, malware researchers have discovered
many more malicious apps for Android than for
iOS, most likely due to Android devices allowing
their users to install apps using third-party
sources. File sharing sites often host malicious
versions of popular applications and games.
With mobile malware, similar to malware for
personal computers, the focus for cybercriminals
is on making money. Similar to Windows
malware, mobile malware spreads fake antivirus
applications and steals confidential information.
Other types of mobile malware send SMS
messages or place calls to premium rate
numbers, if the target device is a part of a mobile
phone network.
Even trusted sources host applications that may
pose a risk to the user’s privacy. Many advertising
frameworks may share a user’s personally
identifiable information, such as location or phone
number. These applications may be classified as
potentially unwanted applications (PUAs).
You can keep your mobile device free of mobile
malware if you keep the mobile operating system
current with security updates and by downloading
and installing only applications from trusted
sources such as Google Play and Apple iTunes.
Mobile security software provides an additional
layer of protection. To learn how to keep your
Android device protected or to download a free
tool, please visit:
Parasitic viruses
Parasitic viruses, also known as file viruses, spread by attaching
themselves to programs.
When you start a program infected with a
parasitic virus, the virus code is run. To hide itself,
the virus then passes control back to the original
The operating system on your computer sees
the virus as part of the program you were trying
to run and gives it the same rights. These rights
allow the virus to copy itself, install itself in
memory or make changes on your computer.
Parasitic viruses appeared early in virus history
and then became quite rare. However, they are
now becoming more common again with recent
examples including Sality, Virut and Vetor.
Patches are software add-ons designed to fix software bugs, including
security vulnerabilities, in operating systems or applications.
Patching for new security vulnerabilities is critical
to protect against malware. Many high-profile
threats take advantage of security vulnerabilities.
If your patches are not applied in a timely manner
or not up to date, you risk leaving your computer
open to hackers.
Many software suppliers routinely release new
patches, with Microsoft issuing fixes on the
second Tuesday of each month (“Patch Tuesday”),
and Adobe issuing quarterly updates to Adobe
Reader and Acrobat on the second Tuesday after
a quarter begins.
To stay abreast of the latest vulnerabilities and
patches, subscribe to vulnerability mailing lists.
Most reputable vendors offer such a service.
For example, Microsoft security information
is available at
Microsoft Windows home users can use Windows
Update (Windows Vista/7) or Security Center
(Windows XP) to turn on automatic updating.
Apple OS X users can click the Apple logo in the
upper-left corner of their desktop and select
Software Updates.
Organizations should make sure that all
computers connecting to their network abide
by a defined security policy that includes having
the latest security patches in place, including for
operating systems and applications. (See Exploit,
Phishing emails
Phishing refers to the process of deceiving recipients into sharing sensitive
information with an unknown third party (cyber criminal).
Typically in a phishing email scam, you receive
an email that appears to come from a reputable
organization, such as:
ÌÌ Banks
ÌÌ Social media (Facebook, Twitter)
ÌÌ Online games
ÌÌ Online services with access to your financial
information (e.g., iTunes, student loans,
accounting services)
ÌÌ Departments in your own organization
(from your technical support team, system
administrator, help desk, etc.)
To protect against phishing attacks, it’s good
practice not to click on links in email messages.
Instead, you should enter the website address in
the address field and then navigate
to the correct page, or use a bookmark or a
Favorite link. Phishing emails may also include
attachments, which if opened can infect the
Anti-phishing software can block many phishingrelated emails.
Potentially unwanted
application (PUA)
Potentially unwanted applications are programs that are not malicious
but may be unsuitable for use in a business environment, and may create
security concerns.
Some applications are non-malicious and possibly
useful in the right context, but are not suitable for
company networks. Examples are adware, tools
for administering PCs remotely and scanners that
identify vulnerabilities in computer systems.
Certain antivirus and endpoint security programs
can detect PUAs on users’ computers and report
Ransomware is software that denies you access to your files or computer
until you pay a ransom.
Malicious software can hold your data hostage.
For example, the Archiveus Trojan copies the
contents of the My Documents folder into a
password-protected file and then deletes the
original files. It leaves a message telling you that
you require a 30-character password to access
the folder, and that you will be sent the password
if you make purchases from an online pharmacy.
In some cases, the password or key is concealed
inside the Trojan’s code and can be retrieved
by malware analysts. However, some criminals
use asymmetric or public-key encryption (which
uses one key to encrypt the data, but another
to decrypt it) so that the password is not easily
A rootkit is a piece of software that hides programs or processes running
on a computer.
Malware frequently installs rootkits upon
infection to hide its activity. A rootkit can hide
keystroke loggers or password sniffers, which
capture confidential information and send it to
hackers via the Internet. It can also allow hackers
to use the computer for illicit purposes (e.g., to
launch a denial-of-service attack against other
computers, or send out spam email) without the
user’s knowledge.
Endpoint security products now detect and
remove rootkits as part of their standard
anti-malware routines. However, some rootkits
may require a more comprehensive mitigation
Social engineering
Social engineering refers to the methods attackers use to deceive victims
into performing an action. Typically, these actions are opening a malicious
webpage or running an unwanted file attachment.
Many social engineering efforts are focused
on tricking users into disclosing usernames or
passwords, allowing attackers to send messages
as an internal user to further their data stealing
In August 2013, for example, malicious hackers
distributed emails that simulated the messages
Facebook sends when a user is tagged in a
post. The links in the messages led to sites that
recommended installing a plugin to view the
videos supposedly posted on Facebook. The
plugin was, in fact, malware designed to steal
saved passwords and hack into users’ Facebook
Social networking
Social networking websites allow you to communicate and share
information. But they can also be used to spread malware and to steal
personal information.
Social networking sites, such as Facebook and
Twitter, continue to grow in popularity as attack
vectors. Unscrupulous individuals can use
information you post online to learn details about
you that can be useful for social engineering or
guessing the answers to security questions on
other websites. Attackers may also compromise
an account of a friend and use it to distribute
malware or other malicious content.
Be cautious about what links you click on. Make
sure any computer you use to connect to the site
is protected with the latest security software and
patches. Use strong passwords and use separate
passwords for each account. Take advantage
of two factor authentication, if available. Be
thoughtful about what you post online, and use
available privacy settings to limit who can see
your information. (See How to be safe on the
Spam is unsolicited bulk email, the electronic equivalent of junk mail, that
comes to your inbox.
Spammers often disguise their email in
an attempt to evade anti-spam software.
Increasingly spam arrives via legitimate email
addresses whose user credentials have been
compromised, from services like Yahoo!, Hotmail
and AOL.
Scammers are also targeting large email service
providers (ESPs) with malware in an effort to
compromise their mail transfer agents (MTA) in
order to send spam.
Spam is often profitable. Spammers can send
millions of emails in a single campaign for very
little money. If even one recipient out of 10,000
makes a purchase, the spammer can turn a profit.
Does spam matter?
ÌÌ Spam is frequently used to distribute malware
(see Email malware distribution).
ÌÌ Spammers often use other people’s computers
to send spam (see Zombie).
ÌÌ Spam, like hoaxes or email viruses, uses
bandwidth and fills up databases.
ÌÌ Users can easily overlook or delete important
email, confusing it with spam.
ÌÌ Spam wastes staff time. Users without antispam protection have to check which email is
spam and then delete it.
Spammers are now also exploiting the popularity
of instant messaging and social networking sites
such as Facebook and Twitter to avoid spam
filters and to trick users into revealing sensitive
and financial information.
Spearphishing is targeted phishing using spoof emails to persuade people
within an organization to reveal sensitive information or credentials.
Unlike phishing, which involves mass-emailing,
spearphishing is small-scale and well targeted.
The attacker emails users in a single organization.
The emails may appear to come from another
staff member at the same organization, asking
you to confirm a username and password.
Sometimes the emails seem to come from a
trusted department that might plausibly need
such details, such as IT or human resources.
Links in the emails will redirect to a bogus version
of the company website or intranet for stealing
credentials. (See Email malware distribution)
Spoofing (Email)
Email spoofing is when the sender address of an email is forged for the
purposes of social engineering.
Spoofing can be put to a number of malicious uses.
Phishers (criminals who trick users into revealing
confidential information) use spoofed sender
addresses to make it appear that their email
comes from a trusted source, such as your bank.
The email can redirect you to a bogus website
(e.g., an imitation of an online banking site), where
your account details and password can be stolen.
Phishers can also send email that appears to
come from inside your own organization (e.g.,
from a system administrator), asking you to
change your password or confirm your details.
Criminals who use email for scams or frauds
can use spoofed addresses to cover their tracks
and avoid detection. (See Email malware
Spyware is software that permits advertisers or hackers to gather sensitive
information without your permission.
You can get spyware on your computer when you
visit certain websites. A pop-up message may
prompt you to download a software utility that it
says you need, or software may be downloaded
automatically without your knowledge.
When spyware runs on the computer, it may track
your activity (e.g., visits to websites) and report it
to unauthorized third parties, such as advertisers.
Spyware consumes memory and processing
capacity, which may slow or crash the computer.
Good antivirus and endpoint security solutions
can detect and remove spyware programs, which
are treated as a type of Trojan. (See Adware)
SQL injection
SQL injection is an exploit that takes advantage of database query software
that doesn’t thoroughly test for correct queries.
Cyber criminals use SQL injection along with
cross-site scripting (XSS) and malware to
break into websites and extract data or embed
malicious code.
SQL injection sends commands via a web server
linked to an SQL database. If the server is not
correctly designed and hardened, it might treat
data entered in a form field (such as username)
as a command to be executed on the database
server. For example, an attacker might enter a
command string designed to output the entire
contents of the database such as customer
records and payment information.
Web application scans can help detect this style
of attack with an advanced system of “patterns”
designed to detect SQL commands transmitted
to the web server. As with any pattern-based
system, to offer the best possible protection
the patterns must be updated to counter new
and creative ways of embedding SQL injection
commands. Regular web application scans can
help detect SQL vulnerabilities and provide
recommendations on how to fix them.
Suspicious files and behavior
When an endpoint security solution scans files, it labels them as clean or
malicious. If a file has a number of questionable characteristics or behavior,
it is labeled as suspicious.
Suspicious behavior refers to files doing
questionable things when they run on a computer,
such as copying themselves to a system folder.
Runtime protection helps protect against
suspicious files by analyzing the behavior of all
the programs running on your computer and
blocking any activity that looks as if it could be
malicious. (See Buffer overflow)
Trojan (Trojan horse)
Trojans are malicious programs that pretend to be legitimate software, but
actually carry out hidden, harmful functions.
A Trojan program pretends to do one thing, but
actually does something different, usually without
your knowledge. Popular examples are video
codecs that some sites require to view online
videos. When a Trojan codec is installed, it may
also install spyware or other malicious software.
Another example is a malicious link that says
“Cool Game.” When you download and install the
game program, it turns out not to be a game at
all, but a harmful Trojan that compromises your
computer or erases the data on your hard drive.
Trojans are often distributed with pirated
software applications and keygens that create
illegal license codes for downloadable software.
(See Backdoor Trojan)
Viruses are malicious computer programs that can spread to other files.
Viruses can have harmful effects such as
displaying irritating messages, stealing data, or
giving hackers control over your computer.
Viruses can attach themselves to other programs
or hide in code that runs automatically when
you open certain types of files. Sometimes they
can exploit security flaws in your computer’s
operating system to run and spread automatically.
You might receive an infected file in a variety
of ways, including via an email attachment,
in a download from the Internet, or on a USB
drive. (See Parasitic viruses, Email malware
distribution, Internet worm, Malware)
Vulnerabilities are bugs in software programs that hackers exploit to
compromise computers.
Security vulnerabilities are commonplace in
software products, leaving users open to attacks.
Responsible software vendors, when aware
of the problem, create and issue patches to
address the vulnerability.
There are companies that pay researchers
to identify new vulnerabilities. There are also
hackers that sell new vulnerabilities on the black
market. When an attack exploits a vulnerability
before it has been discovered or patched by the
vendor, it is known as a “zero day” attack.
To reduce vulnerabilities, you should apply the
latest available patches and/or enable the auto
update feature on your operating system and any
installed applications. (See Exploit, Patches)
A zombie is an infected computer that is remotely controlled by a hacker.
It is part of a large group of compromised computers called a botnet.
Once a hacker can control the computer remotely
via the Internet, the computer becomes a zombie.
Zombies are commonly used to send spam,
launch denial-of-service attacks and infect other
systems. (See Botnet)
software and
Anti-malware software can protect you against viruses and other malware
threats including Trojans, worms and spyware.
Anti-malware software uses a scanner to identify
programs that are or may be malicious. Scanners
can detect:
ÌÌ Known malware: The scanner compares files
on your computer against a library of identities
for known malware. If it finds a match, it issues
an alert and blocks access to the file. Detection
of known malware relies on frequent updates
to a database of the latest virus identities or
connection to a cloud-based malware database.
ÌÌ Previously unknown malware: The scanner
analyzes the likely behavior of a program. If it
has all the characteristics of a virus, access is
blocked, even though the file does not match
known viruses.
ÌÌ Suspicious files: The scanner analyzes the
likely behavior of a program. If that behavior
is considered undesirable, the scanner warns
that it may be malware. Most anti-malware
packages offer both on-access and on-demand
On-access scanners stay active on your computer
whenever you are using it. They automatically
check files as you try to open or run them, and
can prevent you from accessing infected files.
On-demand scanners let you start or schedule a
scan of specific files or drives.
Anti-spam programs can detect unwanted email and prevent it from
reaching user inboxes.
Anti-spam programs use a combination of
methods to decide whether an email is likely to be
spam. They can:
ÌÌ Look for patterns that suggest the email’s
sender is trying to disguise his or her words
(e.g., “hardc*re p0rn”).
ÌÌ Block email that comes from computers on a
block list. This can be a commercially available
list or a local list of computer addresses that
have sent spam to your organization before.
ÌÌ Look for unnecessary HTML code (the code
used for writing webpages) within email, as
spammers often use HTML to try to conceal
their messages and confuse anti-spam
ÌÌ Block email that includes certain web
ÌÌ Check whether email comes from a genuine
domain name or web address. Spammers often
use fake addresses to try to avoid anti-spam
ÌÌ Look for keywords or phrases that occur in
spam (e.g., “credit card,” “lose weight”).
ÌÌ Combine all the information it finds to decide
the probability of an email being spam. If the
probability is high enough, it can block the email
or delete it, depending on the settings
you choose.
Anti-spam software needs frequent updating
with new rules so it can recognize the latest
techniques used by spammers.
Appliances are a combination of hardware and software security elements
in one solution. This lets you plug appliances in rather than installing the
software separately.
The most common types of appliances are email
appliances, unified threat management (UTM)
appliances and web appliances. They sit at the
gateway between an organization’s IT systems
and the Internet, filtering traffic to block malware,
spam and data loss.
Email appliances block spam, phishing, viruses,
spyware and other malware, and—depending on
the solution—also employ content filtering and
encryption to prevent the loss of confidential or
sensitive information via email.
Web appliances block malware, spyware,
phishing, anonymizing proxies and other
unwanted applications at the web gateway.
They may also offer tools to enforce Internet use
UTM appliances eliminate the complexity of
deploying and managing a variety of point
solutions to protect an organization against
viruses, spam and hackers.
Application control
Application control allows you to control the use of applications that may
be inappropriate for use on business computers or networks.
You can use application control to restrict users
to chosen business applications. For example, you
can set a policy to only allow the use of Internet
Explorer and block all other Internet browsers.
Controlling which applications your users can run
reduces the risk of malware and data loss.
Categories of applications that businesses
may wish to control include peer to peer file
sharing software, games, media players, remote
management tools and instant messaging clients.
In addition, next generation firewalls can filter
network traffic based on specific applications,
providing an additional level of control.
Device control
Device control helps you control the use of removable storage, optical
media drives and wireless networking protocols.
Device control is a central element of data loss
prevention strategies. For example, device control
helps prevent malware that spreads through USB
Many organizations use device control to enforce
policies relating to the use of removable storage
devices. Depending on the solution you have,
device control can help you to decide which
devices can connect to computers through
a central policy.
Encryption solutions secure your data by encrypting your desktops,
laptops, removable media, CDs, email, network files, cloud storage and
other devices. Information can only be accessed with the right keys to
decrypt data by entering a password.
Some encryption solutions can be configured
so that data is automatically decrypted for
authorized users—so they don’t need to enter
an encryption key or password to access the
Encrypting any data you have stored by a
third party is an important security measure.
Additionally, mobile workers can access
encrypted data on the go from their mobile
devices, including smartphones and tablets.
Depending on the product, encryption solutions
often include key management (facilitating the
storage, exchange and recovery of encryption
keys), encryption policy enforcement, and
centralized management and reporting features.
Encryption solutions allow you to protect
your confidential information and comply with
regulatory mandates for data security.
Endpoint security
Endpoint security software protects computers or devices against a
wide range of security, productivity and compliance threats, and lets you
centrally manage the security of multiple endpoints.
Endpoint security products bring together in one
solution the individual point products you need
to protect against modern threats. They often
integrate the protection for multiple features into
one agent or central console, easing management
and reporting. They can include:
ÌÌ Antivirus software
ÌÌ Firewalls
ÌÌ Device control
ÌÌ Network access control
ÌÌ Application control
ÌÌ Runtime protection
ÌÌ Encryption technology
ÌÌ Web security
ÌÌ Patch management
ÌÌ Data loss prevention
We recommend using endpoint security software
with web content scanning capabilities. Malware
is often delivered from websites. You should also
consider turning on security filtering features in
your web browser.
For a free trial of Sophos Enduser Protection,
download at
A firewall prevents unauthorized access to a computer or network.
As its name suggests, a firewall acts as a barrier
between networks or parts of a network, blocking
malicious traffic or preventing hacking attempts.
A network firewall is installed on the boundary
between two networks. This is usually located
between the Internet and an organization’s
network. It can be a piece of hardware or software
running on a computer that acts as a gateway to
the company network.
A client firewall is software that runs on an end
user’s computer, protecting only that computer.
In either case, the firewall inspects all traffic,
both inbound and outbound, to see if it meets
certain criteria. If it does, it is allowed; if not,
the firewall blocks it.
A client firewall can also warn the user each time
a program attempts to make a connection, and
ask whether the connection should be allowed or
Firewalls can filter traffic based on:
ÌÌ The source and destination addresses and port
numbers (address filtering)
ÌÌ The type of network traffic (e.g., HTTP or FTP
protocol filtering)
ÌÌ The attributes or state of the packets of
information sent
HTTPS scanning
Malware and other threats can hide in the encrypted traffic from
trusted websites. HTTPS scanning decrypts, scans and then
re-encrypts this data.
HTTPS scanning automatically finds and
removes malicious content without human eyes
viewing the content, maintaining the privacy of
encrypted traffic.
Intrusion prevention systems (IPS) monitor network and systems
for malicious activity.
IPS can log activity information, and also
attempt to block activity and report it to network
administrators to prevent network infections.
IPsec authenticates and encrypts each Internet Protocol (IP) packet of
a communication session.
IPsec includes protocols for establishing
authentication between agents at the beginning
of a session and negotiates cryptographic keys for
use during the session.
Mobile device security
Mobile device security refers to the policies, procedures and tools for
securing mobile devices.
Attacks targeting mobile devices have increased
and will continue to do so, as we integrate mobile
devices into our lives.
The protection of mobile devices and data
stored on them should be a high priority for your
organization. Ensure that policies and procedures
are updated to cover mobile devices. The advice
for keeping PCs secure applies to smartphones
and tablets, as well: keep software updated, be
cautious about installing new apps, use current
security software and investigate suspicious
activity. Mobile device management systems
can help organizations centralize many of these
Network access control (NAC)
A NAC solution protects your network and the information on it from the
threats posed by users or devices accessing your network.
There are three main aspects to NAC:
ÌÌ Authentication of users and devices to check
they are who they say they are
ÌÌ Assessment of computers attempting to access
the network to make sure they are virus-free
and meet your security criteria
ÌÌ Enforcement of policies based on the role of
the user so each person can access information
appropriate to his or her role, while preventing
inappropriate access to other information
Runtime protection
Runtime protection blocks attempts to access vulnerable parts
of your computer.
Runtime protection analyzes the behavior of all
the programs already running on your computer
and blocks any activity that looks as if it could
be malicious. For example, it checks any changes
being made to the Windows registry, which may
indicate that malware is installing itself so that
it starts automatically whenever you restart the
Runtime protection solutions include:
Host intrusion prevention systems (HIPS) monitor
the behavior of code to stop malware before
a specific detection update is released. Many
HIPS solutions monitor code when it runs and
intervene if the code is deemed to be suspicious
or malicious.
Buffer overflow prevention systems (BOPS) will
catch attacks targeting security vulnerabilities in
both operating system software and applications.
Attacks are reported when an attempt is made to
exploit a running process using buffer overflow
Unified threat management (UTM)
UTM brings together multiple security functions into a
single network appliance.
Unified threat management enables organizations
to implement multiple layers of protection
without the complexity of several independent
devices and management consoles. Some
functions that may be included in UTM solutions
include next-generation firewall, web content
filtering, email antivirus and anti-spam, web
application firewall, and endpoint security
URL or web content filtering
URL or web content filtering describes the technology that allows
organizations to block specific websites or entire categories.
Most malware and phishing attacks are carried
out via the web. By restricting access to certain
websites, organizations can reduce the risk that
their users will become victims.
A virtual private network (VPN) is a method of connecting remote offices or
computers to the central network.
This method typically requires remote users to
authenticate themselves by entering passwords
or keys. A VPN allows users to communicate or
access the organization’s servers securely over
the Internet.
Web application control
Web application control blocks unwanted applications that could cause
security concerns such as P2P file sharing or instant messaging.
It accelerates applications the organization deems
critical by making sure they have appropriate
bandwidth, while blocking or limiting unwanted,
unproductive applications.
Web application firewall (WAF)
Web application firewalls help keep your servers safe from hackers by
scanning activity and identifying probes and attacks.
A web application firewall is an otherwise
traditional firewall appliance that also performs
typical duties handled by multiple systems,
including content filtering, spam filtering,
intrusion detection and antivirus. Web application
firewalls are typically used to protect web servers
that are accessible from the Internet.
Safety tips
How to avoid viruses, Trojans,
worms and spyware
Use antivirus or endpoint security software
Install antivirus or endpoint security software on
all your desktops and servers, and make sure to
keep them up to date. New malware can spread
extremely quickly, so have an infrastructure in
place that can update all the computers in
your organization seamlessly, frequently and on
short notice.
To protect against email-borne viruses, spam
and spyware, run email filtering software at your
And don’t forget to protect laptop computers,
desktop computers and mobile devices used by
employees who telecommute.
For a free trial of Sophos Enduser Protection,
download at
Block file types that often carry malware
Block executable file types from being received
by email or downloaded from the Internet. It is
unlikely that your organization will ever need
to receive these types of files from the outside
Subscribe to an email alert service
Consider adding a live malware information feed
to your website or intranet so your users know
about the very latest computer threats.
Use a firewall on all computers
Use a firewall to protect computers that are
connected to a network. Many worms can enter
even a closed network via USB drives, CDs and
mobile devices. Laptops and telecommuters will
also need firewall protection.
Stay up to date with software patches
We encourage using automatic (patch) updating,
especially in the case of Windows computers.
Patches often close loopholes that can make you
vulnerable to malware threats.
Back up your data regularly
Make regular backups of important work and
data, and check that the backups were successful.
You should also find a safe place to store your
backups, preferably off-site in case of fire. If your
computer is infected with malware, you will be
able to restore any lost programs and data. Any
sensitive backup information should be encrypted
and physically secured.
Implement device control
Prevent unauthorized devices from connecting to
your computers. Unauthorized devices such as
USB drives, music players and mobile phones can
carry malware that will infect a computer when
plugged in.
How to avoid hoaxes
Have a policy on virus warnings
Set up a policy on virus warnings. For example:
“Do not forward any virus warnings of any kind
to anyone other than the person responsible for
antivirus issues. It doesn’t matter if the virus
warnings come from an antivirus vendor or have
been confirmed by a large computer company
or your best friend. All virus warnings should be
sent to [name of responsible person] only. It is
their job to notify everybody of virus warnings.
A virus warning that comes from any other
source should be ignored.”
Don’t forward chain letters
Don’t forward a chain letter, even if it offers you
rewards for doing so or claims to distribute useful
How to secure your data
Encrypt your computers, emails and
other devices
By encrypting your data, you can make sure
that only authorized users with the appropriate
encryption key or password can access the
information. With encryption you can keep your
data secure at all times, even if it is stored on a
laptop, CD or other device that is lost or stolen, or
if it’s contained in an intercepted email.
Use device and application control
Prevent users from accessing peer-to-peer file
sharing and USB drives. These are common paths
for data loss.
Only allow computers that comply with your
security policy to access your network. This could
include requirements for encryption, or device or
application control technologies.
Block employee access to cloud-based
mail services
Put controls in place to monitor or block
employee use of cloud storage services such as
Dropbox. These controls should include applying
web-based URL filtering, application controls
and data encryption. You can prohibit access and
transfer of confidential information to largely
unsecured cloud-based storage services.
Implement outbound content controls
Identify the sensitive data you want to control
(e.g., any files containing the term “confidential”
or credit card numbers) and then decide how
these files can be used. For example, you may
wish to present the user with a warning about
potential data loss, or prevent distribution of the
data by email, blogs or forums.
An encryption solution allows users to choose
their preferred cloud storage services because
the files are always encrypted and the keys
are always your own. And because encryption
takes place on the client before any data is
synchronized, you have full control of the safety
of your data.
User wireless encryption
Configure your office wireless networks to use
strong encryption, such as that offered by WPA2.
Encourage your employees to do the same on
their home wireless networks.
How to avoid spam
Use email filtering software at your
email gateway
You should run email filtering software at the
email gateway to protect your organization from
spam as well as email-borne spyware, viruses
and worms.
Never make a purchase from an
unsolicited email
By making a purchase, you are funding future
spam. Spammers may add your email address
to lists to sell to other spammers, so that you
receive even more junk email. Worse still, you
could be the victim of a fraud.
If you do not know the sender of an
unsolicited email, delete it
Spam can contain malware that damages or
compromises the computer when the email is
Don’t use the preview mode in your
email viewer
Many spammers can track when a message
is viewed, even if you don’t click on the email.
The preview setting effectively opens the email
and lets spammers know that you receive their
messages. When you check your email, try to
decide whether a message is spam on the basis of
the subject line only.
Don’t overexpose your email address
How much online exposure you give your email
address is the biggest factor in how much spam
you receive. Here are some bad habits that expose
your email address to spammers:
ÌÌ Posting to mailing lists that are archived online
ÌÌ Submitting your address to online services with
questionable privacy practices
ÌÌ Exposing your address publicly on social
networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
ÌÌ Using an easily guessable address based on
first name, last name and company
ÌÌ Not keeping your work and personal email
Use the bcc field if you email many people
at once
The bcc or blind carbon copy field hides the list
of recipients from other users. If you put the
addresses in the To field, spammers may harvest
them and add them to mailing lists.
Use one or two secondary email addresses
If you fill out web registration forms or surveys
on sites from which you don’t want further
information, use a secondary email address.
This protects your main address from spam.
Opt out of further information or offers
When you fill out forms on websites, look for the
checkbox that lets you choose whether to accept
further information or offers. Check or uncheck
the box as appropriate.
How to avoid being phished
Never respond to emails that request
personal financial information
You should be suspicious of any email that
asks for your password or account information,
or includes links for that purpose. Banks and
ecommerce companies do not usually send
such emails.
Look for signs that an email is “phishy”
Some phishing emails are generic, using greetings
like “Dear valued customer.” They may also
include alarming claims (e.g., your account
numbers have been stolen), use suspiciously poor
spelling or grammar and/or request that you take
an action like clicking a link or sending personal
information to an unknown address.
Other phishing emails are more targeted and may
be very believable. Look for unusual behavior,
such as a blank or irrelevant attachment (which
could have hidden malware), or a request to click
a link that doesn’t fit with the topic or sender of
the message.
Visit bank websites by typing the address
into the address bar
Don’t follow links embedded in an unsolicited
email. Phishers often use these to direct you to
a bogus site. Instead, you should type the full
address into the address bar in your browser.
Keep a regular check on your accounts
Regularly log in to your online accounts and
check your statements. If you see any suspicious
transactions, report them to your bank or credit
card provider.
Make sure that the website you are visiting
is secure
Check the web address in the address bar. If the
website you are visiting is on a secure server, it
should start with https:// (“s” stands for secure)
rather than the usual http://. Also look for a small
padlock icon on the browser’s status bar. These
signs tell you that the website is using encryption.
However, even if a site is secure, there is no
guarantee that it is safe because hackers can
create websites that use encryption that are
designed to steal personal information.
Be cautious with emails and personal data
Always conduct transactions safely. Don’t let
anyone know your PINs or passwords, do not
write them down, and do not use the same
password for all your online accounts. Don’t open
or reply to spam emails as this lets the sender
know that your address is valid and can be used
for future scams.
Keep your computer secure
Anti-spam software will prevent many phishing
emails from reaching you. A firewall also helps
to keep your personal information secure and
block unauthorized communications. You should
also run antivirus software to detect and disable
malicious programs, such as spyware or backdoor
Trojans, which may be included in phishing emails.
Keep your Internet browser up-to-date with the
latest security patches.
Always report suspicious activity
If you receive an email you suspect isn’t genuine,
forward it to the spoofed organization. Many
companies have a dedicated email address for
reporting such abuse.
How to be safe on the Internet
This section gives general advice on safely using email and the web.
You should also see our tips on How to avoid being phished and
How to avoid viruses, Trojans, worms and spyware.
Keep up-to-date with security patches
Hackers frequently exploit vulnerabilities in
operating systems and programs in an attempt to
infect computers. Be aware of security updates
for your computer’s operating system, browser,
plugins and other code that could be the target
of hackers. If you can, set up your computer to
automatically download security patches.
Use firewalls
A network firewall is installed at your
organization’s boundary and admits only
authorized types of traffic. A client firewall is
installed on each computer on your network,
and also allows only authorized traffic, blocking
hackers and Internet worms. In addition, it
prevents the computer from communicating with
the Internet via unauthorized programs.
Don’t follow links in unexpected emails
Links in unexpected emails can take you to bogus
websites, where any confidential information you
enter, such as account numbers and passwords,
can be stolen and misused.
In addition, hackers often try to direct you to
malicious webpages by spamming out links
via email.
Use different passwords for every site
You should use a different password for each
site where you have a user account. That way,
if a password is compromised, only one account
will be affected. In addition, make sure that your
passwords are hard to guess and never use a
dictionary word as your password.
Consider blocking access to certain
websites or types of web content
In a company environment, you may want to
prevent users from accessing sites that are
inappropriate for workplace use, or that may pose
a security threat (e.g., by installing spyware on
computers). You can do this with web filtering
software or a hardware appliance. Even if users
are allowed to visit websites, you should make
sure that all webpages they visit are scanned for
security threats.
Scan email for malware and spam
Anti-spam programs can detect unwanted email
and prevent it from reaching users’ inboxes, as well
as scan for malware contained within the email.
Don’t click on pop-up messages
If you see unsolicited pop-ups, such as a message
warning that a computer is infected and offering
virus removal, don’t follow links or click to accept
software downloads. Doing so could result in
you downloading malicious code such as fake
antivirus software.
Use routers
You can use a router to limit connections between
the Internet and specific computers. Many routers
also incorporate a network firewall.
How to choose secure passwords
Passwords are your protection against fraud and loss of confidential
information, but few people choose passwords that are really secure.
Make your password as long as possible
The longer a password is, the harder it is to guess
or to find by trying all possible combinations
(i.e., a brute force attack). Passwords of 14
characters or more are vastly more difficult
to crack.
Use different types of characters
Include numbers, punctuation marks, symbols,
and uppercase and lowercase letters. On mobile
devices that are not designed for easy special
character input, consider using longer passwords
with different characters.
Don’t use dictionary words
Don’t use words, names or place names that
are usually found in dictionaries. Hackers can
use a dictionary attack (i.e., trying all the words
in the dictionary automatically) to crack these
Don’t use personal information
Other people are likely to know information
such as your birthday, the name of your partner
or child, or your phone number, and they might
guess that you have used them as a password.
Don’t use your username
Don’t use a password that is the same as your
username or account number.
Use passwords that are difficult to identify
as you type them in
Make sure that you don’t use repeated characters
or keys close together on the keyboard.
Consider using a passphrase
A passphrase is a string of words, rather than a
single word. Unlikely combinations of words can
be hard to guess.
Try to memorize your password
Memorize your password rather than writing
it down. Use a string of characters that is
meaningful to you, or use mnemonic devices to
help you recall the password. There are good free
programs available that will help you manage
your passwords.
Reputable password management programs
can help you choose unique passwords, encrypt
them and store them securely on your computer.
Examples include KeePass, RoboForm and
Use different passwords for each account
If a hacker cracks one of your passwords, at least
only one account has been compromised.
Don’t tell anyone else your password
If you receive a request to confirm your password,
even if it appears to be from a trustworthy
institution or someone within your organization,
you should never disclose your password (see
Phishing emails).
Don’t use your password on a
public computer
Don’t enter your password on a publicly available
computer (e.g., in a hotel or Internet café). Such
computers may not be secure and may have
keystroke loggers installed.
Change your passwords regularly
The shorter or simpler your password is, the more
often you should replace it.
How to use removable
media securely
Educate users
Many users are not aware of the potential
dangers from removable media such as USBs
and CDs/DVDs that spread malware and cause
data loss. Educating users helps reduce the risks
Identify device types
Computers interact with a growing variety of
removable media including USB drives, MP3
players and smartphones. Having visibility of what
removable media is attempting to connect to your
network can help you set appropriate restrictions
or permissions.
Implement device control
Controlling the type of removable media that
is permitted and what data is allowed to be
exchanged is a vital component of network
security. Choose solutions that can set
permissions (or restrictions) for individual devices
as well as entire classes of devices.
Encrypt your data
Data encryption prevents the loss of data. This is
particularly useful for removable media that can
be easily misplaced or stolen because the data
cannot be viewed or copied by unauthorized third
How to buy online safely
Can you trust your common sense
and intuition?
Unfortunately, it isn’t practical for users to
determine if a website is safe or not with the
naked eye.
Although invisible to the visiting online customer,
hackers often target improperly secured
legitimate websites. Being a large, wellestablished company is no guarantee that the site
is safe.
Purchasing from a secure computer or device
running the latest antivirus software, firewalls
and security patches will significantly decrease
your chances of becoming a victim.
Never follow links from unsolicited online
communications, such as email messages, social
media posts, or instant messages. Spammers
and hackers use social engineering techniques as
lures to fraudulent or infected websites.
Only part with sensitive information like your
personal or financial details when you are fully
satisfied with the legitimacy of the company.
Familiarize yourself with the Terms of Use
and the Data Protection Policy
Read the fine print. Terms can sometimes detail
hidden and unexpected costs or obligations.
Only purchase through websites
using encryption
URLs that start with https:// rather than http://
(the “s” stands for secure) are encrypting
information during transfer. Another indicator of a
website using encryption is a small padlock icon
displayed in the Internet browser.
However, there is no guarantee that these sites
are safe, as hackers can create websites that use
encryption but are designed to steal personal
Provide the minimum amount of personal
Leave optional fields blank: Middle name, date
of birth, mobile phone number, hobbies. Many
website operators request optional information
alongside required information to process a
business transaction. Compulsory fields are often
identifiable by an asterisk.
Never share your password
Even if someone else is making the purchase for
you, you should enter the password yourself and
never share it with others.
To stop subsequent users from accessing your
account without authorization, never select the
“remember my password” option on a shared
Buy local where possible
When the seller is based in a different country,
it can be much more difficult and expensive to
resolve any issues and to enforce consumer rights
Check your bank statements
Check your bank account transactions regularly,
particularly after making purchases over the
Internet, to be sure that all payments are
legitimate. If you discover payments that you
cannot identify, inform your bank immediately.
Keep your order confirmations and receipts
Always retain important information relating to
a purchase in either printed or electronic format.
This information will be very useful in resolving
any issues relating to the purchase.
How to stay safe on the move
Educate users
Don’t underestimate the risks of data loss
from unsecured laptops or removable media.
Organizations should develop clear policies
concerning the use of mobile devices.
Use secure passwords
Passwords are the very first walls of defense and
should always be as strong as possible. (See How
to choose secure passwords)
Implement additional security checks
Smartcards or tokens require you to enter
additional information (e.g., a token code together
with your password) in order to access your
computer. With fingerprint readers, you need to
confirm your identity using your fingerprint when
booting up or logging in.
Encrypt all important data
If your data is encrypted, it will remain safe even
if your laptop or removable media is lost or stolen.
If you don’t want to encrypt your entire hard drive,
you can create a virtual disk to store confidential
information securely.
Restrict Plug and Play
Plug and Play allows USB drives, MP3 players
or external hard drives to connect to laptops
automatically, making it easy for data to be
copied. Instead, lock the computer so only
authorized devices are allowed to connect.
Secure remote connections
It is easy for nosy individuals to eavesdrop on
wireless networks in airports, cafes, hotels and
other public places. Secure communications with
your organization’s servers by using a virtual
private network (VPN) configured on each laptop
or mobile device. Some applications and websites
can also be secured through the use of SSL to
encrypt communications.
How to secure your
mobile workforce
Smartphones are standard business tools storing sensitive business
information and enabling email on the move. This makes them vulnerable
to attack from malware authors seeking out new ways to defraud users
and steal confidential business data.
While mobile viruses and spyware remain a
relatively small problem compared with the much
larger amount of malware targeting Windows
computers, the risks to business reputation,
communication and continuity are becoming
more serious. Risks include data theft, disruption
of mobile phone networks and the hijacking of
phones to send unauthorized revenue-generating
SMS messages.
Mobile devices can be infected in many ways
including email, MMS, external memory cards,
PC synchronization and even via Bluetooth.
Make sure your security policy includes a strategy
for mobile devices, covering:
ÌÌ Threat management—identification and
removal of viruses, spyware and spam
ÌÌ Device access control and management
enforcing a password policy and application
ÌÌ Data protection—encryption of sensitive data on
devices and remote data deletion
ÌÌ Network access control—controlling VPN
connections across public networks, validation
of devices when they connect to the corporate
For a free trial of Sophos Mobile Control,
download at
When did viruses, Trojans and
worms begin to pose a threat?
Most histories of viruses start with the Brain virus, written in 1986. But
that was just the first virus for a Microsoft PC. Programs with all the
characteristics of viruses date back much farther. Here’s a timeline
showing key moments in virus history.
1949 Self-reproducing “cellular automata”
John von Neumann, the father of cybernetics,
published a paper suggesting that a computer
program could reproduce itself.
1959 Core Wars
H Douglas McIlroy, Victor Vysottsky, and
Robert P Morris of Bell Labs developed a
computer game called Core Wars, in which
programs called organisms competed for
computer processing time.
1960 “Rabbit” programs
Programmers began to write placeholders for
mainframe computers. If no jobs were waiting,
these programs added a copy of themselves
to the end of the queue. They were nicknamed
“rabbits” because they multiplied, using up
system resources.
1971 The first worm
Bob Thomas, a developer working on ARPANET, a
precursor to the Internet, wrote a program called
Creeper that passed from computer to computer,
displaying a message.
1975 Replicating code
1982 Apple virus with side effects
1978 The Vampire worm
1985 Mail Trojan
1981 Apple virus
1986 The first virus for PCs
A K Dewdney wrote Pervade as a sub-routine
for a game run on computers using the UNIVAC
1100 system. When any user played the game,
it silently copied the latest version of itself into
every accessible directory, including shared
directories, consequently spreading throughout
the network.
John Shoch and Jon Hupp at Xerox PARC began
experimenting with worms designed to perform
helpful tasks. The Vampire worm was idle during
the day, but at night it assigned tasks to underused computers.
Joe Dellinger, a student at Texas A&M University,
modified the operating system on Apple II
diskettes so that it would behave as a virus.
As the virus had unintended side-effects, it was
never released, but further versions were written
and allowed to spread.
Rich Skrenta, a 15-year-old, wrote Elk Cloner
for the Apple II operating system. Elk Cloner
ran whenever a computer was started from
an infected floppy disk, and would infect any
other floppy put into the disk drive. It displayed
a message every 50 times the computer was
The EGABTR Trojan horse was distributed via
mailboxes, posing as a program designed to
improve graphics display. However, once run,
it deleted all files on the hard disk and displayed
a message.
The first virus for IBM PCs, Brain, was allegedly
written by two brothers in Pakistan, when
they noticed that people were copying their
software. The virus put a copy of itself and a
copyright message on any floppy disk copies their
customers made.
1987 The Christmas tree worm
This was an email Christmas card that included
program code. If the user ran it, it drew a
Christmas tree as promised, but also forwarded
itself to everyone in the user’s address book.
The traffic paralyzed the IBM worldwide network.
1988 The Internet Worm
1991 The first polymorphic virus
Tequila was the first widespread polymorphic
virus. Polymorphic viruses make detection difficult
for virus scanners by changing their appearance
with each new infection.
1992 The Michelangelo panic
Robert Morris, a 23-year-old student, released
a worm on the US DARPA Internet. It spread to
thousands of computers and, due to an error, kept
re-infecting computers many times, causing them
to crash.
The Michelangelo virus was designed to erase
computer hard disks each year on March 6
(Michelangelo’s birthday). After two companies
accidentally distributed infected disks and PCs,
there was worldwide panic, but few computers
were infected.
1989 Trojan demands ransom
1994 The first email virus hoax
The AIDS Trojan horse came on a floppy disk
that offered information about AIDS and HIV.
The Trojan encrypted the computer’s hard
disk and demanded payment in exchange for
the password.
The first email hoax warned of a malicious
virus that would erase an entire hard drive
just by opening an email with the subject line
“Good Times.”
1995 The first document virus
2000 Denial-of-service attacks
1998 The first virus to affect hardware
Love Bug became the most successful email
virus yet.
The first document or “macro” virus, Concept,
appeared. It spread by exploiting the macros in
Microsoft Word.
CIH or Chernobyl became the first virus to
paralyze computer hardware. The virus
attacked the BIOS, which is needed to boot up
the computer.
1999 Email viruses
Melissa, a virus that forwards itself by email,
spread worldwide.
Bubbleboy, the first virus to infect a computer
when email is viewed, appeared.
“Distributed denial-of-service” attacks by hackers
put Yahoo!, eBay, Amazon and other high profile
websites offline for several hours.
2000 Palm virus
The first virus appeared for the Palm operating
system, although no users were infected.
2001 Viruses spread via websites or
network shares
Malicious programs began to exploit
vulnerabilities in software, so that they could
spread without user intervention. Nimda infected
users who simply browsed a website. Sircam used
its own email program to spread, and also spread
via network shares.
2003 Zombie, Phishing
The Sobig worm gave control of the PC to
hackers, so that it became a “zombie,” which
could be used to send spam.
The Mimail worm posed as an email from Paypal,
asking users to confirm credit card information.
2004 IRC bots
Malicious IRC (Internet Relay Chat) bots were
developed. Trojans could place the bot on a
computer, where it would connect to an IRC
channel without the user’s knowledge and give
control of the computer to hackers.
2005 Rootkits
Sony’s DRM copy protection system, included on
music CDs, installed a “rootkit” on users’ PCs,
hiding files so that they could not be duplicated.
Hackers wrote Trojans to exploit this security
weakness and installed a hidden “back door.”
2006 Share price scams
Spam mail hyping shares in small companies
(“pump-and-dump” spam) became common.
2006 Ransomware
The Zippo and Archiveus Trojan horse programs,
which encrypted users’ files and demanded
payment in exchange for the password, were early
examples of ransomware.
2006 First advanced persistent threat
(APT) identified
First coined by the U.S. Air Force in 2006 and
functionally defined by Alexandria, Virginia
security firm Mandiant in 2008 as a group of
sophisticated, determined and coordinated
attackers. APTs are equipped with both the
capability and the intent to persistently and
effectively target a specific entity. Recognized
attack vectors include infected media, supply
chain compromise and social engineering.
2008 Fake antivirus software
Scaremongering tactics encourage people to hand
over credit card details for fake antivirus products
like AntiVirus 2008.
2008 First iPhone malware
The US Computer Emergency Response Team
(US-CERT) issues a warning that a fraudulent
iPhone upgrade, “iPhone firmware 1.1.3 prep,”
is making its way around the Internet and users
should not be fooled into installing it. When a user
installs the Trojan, other application components
are altered. If the Trojan is uninstalled, the
affected applications may also be removed.
2009 Conficker hits the headlines
Conficker, a worm that initially infects via
unpatched machines, creates a media storm
across the world.
2009 Polymorphic viruses rise again
Complex viruses return with a vengeance,
including Scribble, a virus which mutates
its appearance on each infection and used
multiple vectors of attack.
2009 First Android malware
Android FakePlayerAndroid/FakePlayer.A is a
Trojan that sends SMS messages to premium rate
phone numbers. The Trojan penetrates Androidbased smartphones disguised as an ordinary
application. Users are prompted to install a small
file of around 13 KB that has the standard Android
extension .APK. But once the “app” is installed
on the device, the Trojan bundled with it begins
texting premium rate phone numbers (those that
charge). The criminals are the ones operating
these numbers, so they end up collecting charges
to the victims’ accounts.
2010 Stuxnet
Discovered in June 2010 the Stuxnet worm
initially spreads indiscriminately, but is later
found to contain a highly specialized malware
payload that is designed to target only Siemens
supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)
systems configured to control and monitor
specific industrial processes. Stuxnet’s most
prominent target is widely believed to be uranium
enrichment infrastructure in Iran.
2012 First drive-by Android malware
The first Android drive-by malware is discovered,
a Trojan called NotCompatible that poses as a
system update but acts as a proxy redirect. The
site checks the victim’s browser’s user-agent
string to confirm that it is an Android visiting,
then automatically installs the Trojan. A device
infected with NotCompatible could potentially
be used to gain access to normally protected
information or systems, such as those maintained
by enterprise or government.
2013 Ransomware is back
Ransomware emerges as one of the top malware
threats. With some variants using advanced
encryption that makes recovering locked files
nearly impossible, ransomware replaces fake
antivirus as malicious actors’ money-soliciting
threat of choice.
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