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Home and small business users may meet these computer security threats:

fake security threats
Computer virus spreads to humans: yeah right
  • Malware: A generic name for all malicious software. Some people include greyware which is software that’s annoying and not dangerous.
  • Virus: A small program designed to automatically copy itself from one computer to another. Viruses attach to other pieces of software or hidden inside images, games and music files. They usually travel from machine to machine by email, instant messaging or file transfers. Although some viruses are harmless, most are disruptive, the worst can stop a PC from working.
  • Worm: Also a self-replicating program, but unlike viruses, worms can automatically travel from machine to machine without being attached to other pieces of software. This means in addition to any other damage they slow networks because they can consume bandwidth.
  • Trojan: The name given to a program which looks harmless, but has an unexpected malicious purpose. Some start their mischief immediately, others may lurk for a time, possibly collecting data without the computer owner’s knowledge.
  • Spyware: A program designed to collect information about a computer and its user that the spyware author can use to make money. Typically spyware may watch your web browsing and target pop-up advertising at you or divert you to other websites.
  • Rootkit: A program designed to change a computer’s operating system to hide the behaviour of other malware.
  • Keylogger: Software that collects keyboard input – possibly to collect passwords or important account information. Keyloggers send this information back to criminals allowing them to impersonate users and rob their online banking accounts or do other mischief.
  • Botnet: Programs used to control, update or trigger activity in previously infected systems.
  • Backdoor: A way of getting undetected access to a computer system.
  • Zombie: A computer controlled by another user to do malicious tasks online.
  • Spam: Unwanted email, instant messages or another form of electronic communication. Spam clogs email in-boxes and the sheer volume of spam (as much as 95% of all email traffic) slows networks.
  • Phishing: is when someone fraudulently tries to get hold of important information such as passwords and bank account details by pretending to be a trustworthy source. Phishers may send authentic-looking emails asking for the data or with links to a fake website.
  • Adware: Strictly speaking this isn’t a security threat, but an annoyance. It refers to any software that bombards you with unwanted advertising.

The question isn’t whether the virus-writers, phishers, spam merchants and other online nuisances are targeting your PC, money and privacy. The question is how successful will they be.

Your computer and data could be vulnerable from the moment you hit the on button. Threats multiply when you go online. While there’s no sure way to make your system safe, there’s plenty you can do to minimise risks.

Computer security

The risks are real. At the less worrying end of the spectrum, neighbours might hop on your wireless router and surf the web on your ISP account or pranksters may load your PC with troublesome viruses.

There are people, including some seemingly respectable companies, who want to spy on your online activities.

More seriously, crooks want to control your computer so they can suck money from your bank accounts.

Others want to hijack your machine so they carry out their crimes or even terrorist acts at arm’s length leaving a trail that investigators may track to your front door.

Getting Started

It sounds scary, but a whole industry has evolved to help keep you safe. These days you need a variety of tools to fight a complex range of security threats (see the next post: Computer security: what are the main threats).

You should consider antivirus, a firewall and anti-spyware tools.

This may sound complicated and expensive, but all-in-one security suites make life easier and help you sleep at night. There are free security suites, some are as good as paid for versions. However, if you pay, you’ll get support.

Suites are particularly helpful if you’re not a security expert because the separate tools in security suites should interact smoothly with each other and offer overlapping protection from today’s nastiest threats which can use a blend of techniques to probe your defences.