You can’t own a computer for long these days without having heard the terms malware, spyware, or viruses. Malware is a commonly used term, but viruses are actually a particular type of malware, as are trojans, spyware, and many other types of attacks.
A virus can attack through several points of entry such as an email attachment, or a file on a USB drive or an infected file on a network. Each of those vectors involve running an application on your local machine; you have to download a file and run it,open the email attachment, or run a file from a flash drive. Once it is executed by the computer, you are infected. Then the virus tries to spread to other computers connected to the infected one. Some search your email for contacts and set up a way to send email to everyone on your list. Some are network-aware, meaning they can look at any shared folders on your network and place copies of the virus in the folders, hoping someone will open them and get infected.
Other types of malware can infect your computer through a number of different routes, most often a link sent to you in an email, or banner ad on a website. The link points to a webserver that has been taken over by a hacker, or built to spread the malware. Malware doesn’t spread itself like a virus; you have to follow a link rather than running a file on your computer. Often malware will infect your system, then use various methods to install more malware. One piece of malware can create a tangle of malware applications, all trying to do different things and slowing down your computer. These attacks are often looking for credit card information and passwords; they can create a network of ‘zombies’ for a larger scale attack; they may want to increase traffic to a specific website resulting in pop-up ads, and site redirection. Ever try to go to Google and end up at ‘SomeWebSiteYouNever HeardOf.com?
There is a raging battle between the hackers and the products trying to protect you. The best defense is a good offense. Be sure you have a good antivirus (see Nov/Dec 2014 newsletter) and do NOT click on links, even from people you know. Educate your staff, be prepared, and be diligent!