Last modified on November 23rd, 2020
Keeping your Computer Safe from Malware during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Malware is short for malicious software and is a program engineered to disrupt the operations of your device. They are created by hackers and can be used to perform a wide range of unapproved operations on your device. If you’re a frequent user of digital devices, the chance that you have been affected by malware at least once is quite high.
How Malware Adversely Affects a Cyber Device
Malware can be used by hackers to steal private information from your device. Year in, year out, we see various data breaches of government agencies, firms, and individuals. This form of theft is perpetrated through malware. Hackers typically use this data to blackmail a victim or sell on the dark web.
Malicious software also wreaks havoc on your computer’s operations by slowing it down. Typically, the program can duplicate itself, filling up your memory space. In the cryptocurrency space, there are different kinds of crypto-mining malware that mine coins using your system’s CPU power. This slows down a device severely while mining valuable coins for the hacker’s use.
Malicious programs can prevent access to your computer. This is usually seen in the case of ransomware. Ransomware hackers have one goal: money. When your computer gets hacked by ransomware, you’ll most likely be asked to make payment.
Malware Attacks during COVID-19
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, firms have instructed their workers to work from home in a bid to limit the spread of the virus. Cyber hijackers have realized there is an opportunity to attack workers who have little knowledge of cybersecurity. As such, malware attacks have increased.
Working from home also exposes employees to several risks they normally wouldn’t be exposed to. This is because office networks and devices have better security tools. In a report released by VMWare Carbon Black, a cloud security provider, 91% of firms have experienced increased cyber-attacks. These firms were based in countries that include Singapore, the UK, Italy, and the U.S.
Hackers have also found alternative ways to infect mobile devices with malware by creating bogus contact tracing apps. A contact tracing app is designed to alert individuals who have been close to people infected with COVID-19. These cybercriminals take advantage of this to spread links that contain fake contact tracing apps.
At least twelve fake apps have been discovered in countries like India, Singapore, Brazil, and Italy. They were designed for Android phones and possessed the ability to steal banking information from people. None of the apps were, however, on Google PlayStore.
Types of Malware
- Trojan Horses
Trojan horse is one of the different types of malware used by hackers. Trojan horse malware presents itself as legitimate software. However, when they get downloaded, it begins malicious activity.
This kind of malware can be used to remove, steal, or change data from a device, add your device as a bot in a botnet and gain access to your network.
As earlier discussed in this article, ransomware is used to restrict access to your computer. A pop-up with a payment address, usually cryptocurrency is then displayed. Hackers behind ransomware typically threaten to delete the entirety of your files if the payment is not made within a certain number of days.
Ransomware payments range from as low as $100 to $1 million, depending on the entity targeted. The bad part of ransomware is that even after payment, your files can still get deleted by the program due to a lack of possession of the key by the hackers.
Ransomware attacks gained notoriety in 2017 when the WannaCry ransomware attacked several Windows computers around the world. This attack led to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars as FedEx and the UK’s National Health Service got compromised.
Security Tips to Keep your Devices safe from Malware
With the astronomical increase in malware attacks, predicted by Safety Detectives to cost the world about $6 trillion by 2021, it is pertinent that everyone – individuals, corporations, and government bodies – employ several tactics to curtail the menacing pandemic. Of all the several measures that could be taken to quell these attacks, explained below are the top 5 methods:
- Install Trusted Antimalware and Antivirus Software: These days, hardly would you find any enterprise system or network without reliable antivirus software installed. This extends to users also as the software helps you prevent, detect, and remove any suspicious program either trying to get into your device or already existing in it.
While getting antivirus software, be sure to get high-quality software as many of these free, knock-off antivirus software on the internet could put your device at even worse risk. The price to pay in getting premium antivirus software is always nothing compared to the amount that could be lost in a successful attack.
- Setup Regular Scans and Proper Configuration: Getting the antivirus or antimalware software is only the first step in the right direction. It is also essential to set up periodic scans to check for any Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUP) that could have made its way into the system.
When setting up these scans, make sure that they are correctly configured not to skip any folder or overlook any suspicious program. These regular scans should also be configured to run when there is uninterrupted power on the devices and probably when not much work is done on them – e.g., break time or closing hours.
- Update your Operating System Regularly: No system is 100% safe, and this includes operating systems. After every release, developers continually make updates to their operating systems. Asides from feature upgrades and modifications, these updates more often than not contain security patches. These security patches are in a bid to fix loopholes or security lapses that could have been discovered from reports by end-users.
At times, these lapses aren’t even an oversight. They might be as a result of technologically advanced malware developed after the operating system was rolled out. Therefore, device users must take security updates seriously and install them as soon as they are released to the public.
- Connect using Encrypted Networks: The worst thing any organization or even individuals can do is to allow just any kind of traffic in and out of their network. This leaves room for an impending disaster. For organizations, one of the most common ways to secure their system is to use a firewall. This helps prevent unauthorized access to or from a network. Another standard method is to use a Virtual Private Network.
Commonly known as VPN, they are popularly used by lots of people to access geo-restricted content. Asides from this benefit, many VPNs also help encrypt traffic data as it travels from the source to its destination and vice versa. This helps prevent unscrupulous elements from stealing login credentials and then gaining access to the network to plant malware.
- Employ Best Practices: There are some things the average Internet user should know not to do. The first and most important is to avoid clicking on suspicious links or downloading files from untrusted sources. Many of these kinds of connections and documents are usually plagued with malware, which can wreak havoc upon getting into the system. Even if a file is trusted, it should be scanned by the antivirus software on your device before opening it. This is to be double-sure that you are downloading a safe document.