Column: Malware infections, a fact of cyber life

I keep my anti-virus updated and stay away from questionable websites, but somehow keep getting hit by viruses.  How’s this happening?

Gone are the days where a stand-alone anti-virus program is sufficient protection against malware threats and no matter what you use, nothing is capable of protecting you from unknown or emerging threats.

A virus is just one type of malware, so security focused solely on virus protection will miss lots of other threats.

Malware refers to malicious software, which can take many different forms and hide from anti-virus programs in a number of ways.

For example, malware that appears to be a legitimate program to an anti-virus program and approved for installation by the user can easily evade detection or in some cases, disable your protection altogether.

Cyberthieves are sophisticated organized crime groups and they tend to take the “blended threat” approach to snare more people.

Think of your computer like your house and anti-virus as a strong lock on your front door.

Burglars know that windows, back doors, patio doors, screen doors and improperly secured garage doors are all much easier to break into than the front door.

The “back doors” of your computer range from your browser, to virtually every utility you use to access the Internet, such as Java, Adobe Flash and Reader.

Rigged websites that often pose as legitimate news sites, “probe” visiting computers to see which of the back doors haven’t been secured.

Sending malicious code to unpatched programs allows them to slip by your anti-virus program and silently infect your computer.

Increasingly, these same methods are growing in social media, email and are hitting more Mac users.

Sophisticated phishing scams are becoming much harder for even tech savvy users to detect, so cyberthieves have really stepped up their game in this area as well.

The reality for just about everyone on the Internet these days is that they will pick up malware just from regular use, much like your car picks up dirt and debris as it’s driven around.

The difference is most people pay attention to changes in their car’s appearance and performance and take it in for regular cleaning and maintenance.

The two biggest mistakes computer users make are inferior (usually free) security programs and no solid backup system in the event of a major virus or ransomware attack.

Even worse are heavily infected computers that come in with expired anti-virus software that the user knew about, but just never got around to renewing.

You should assume that your computer will be exploited at some point and plan accordingly (like assuming you’ll someday be in an auto accident and plan accordingly).

Not only do you want to use strong protection that includes cloud-based detection, such as one of Trend Micro’s Internet Security packages, you need to make sure all the other points of entry have been protected (generally by keeping all programs updated).

Ignoring signs of infection, such as long startup times, slow initial Internet browsing sessions or just all around sluggish performance is what hackers are counting on.

You or someone you trust should be taking a look “under the hood” at least every six months, especially if you use the Internet every day.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer ServicesAsk any tech question you have on his Facebook Page.

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