Mon, January 25, 2016

Viruses: A good defense is the best offense

For some, finding out you have a computer virus is the equivalent of being robbed—everything you thought you knew has been turned on its head. Like a thief in the night, viruses can come into your home, steal your most valuable information, and leave you feeling vulnerable and taken advantage of. Not to mention, they can be a headache to get rid of; and unlike your valuables, there’s no insurance policy for your stolen personal information and you won’t get a check in the mail to replace it.

So, what do you do? Well, just like you protect your home with burglar alarms and flood lamps, you can protect your information by being proactive about your computer and data care. There are many different ways to keep your data safe and we recently talked with Steven Cox, Centrality’s Cloud Services Support Manager, to compile a list of must-have defenses for combating pesky viruses and other attacks.

How do I avoid getting a virus?

You’ve heard the old saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? Well, in the case of avoiding the ever-evolving computer virus, this is doubly true. When protecting against a nasty bug, we normally advise a layered approach to your anti-viral efforts.

  • Install an antivirus program. This may seem obvious but for many people this advice is so overt it’s actually covert—some people just don’t think about it. Then, there are those who choose not to make the investment and instead try their luck against the computer gods. In addition to scheduled malware scans, some of the more reputable antivirus programs, like BitDefender, do real-time scanning and web content filtering in addition to watching for suspicious files that could potentially be infected.
  • Use a firewall. Content filtering is very important—both web filtering, and email filtering. There are many products on the market that offer adequate firewall protection. By using products like the Barracuda web filter and the Barracuda spam and virus firewall, you can get a headstart on protecting your information. Both have proven to be reliable and effective.
  • Limit administrative and temporary users and check credentials. Our technical experts have found one of the most overlooked avenues for viruses to infiltrate a user’s system is when certain users have higher security privileges than they need. For the majority of users in a business there is no need to have administrative rights on their work machines—but this often gets overlooked. While you may trust the intentions of your co-workers and users enough to grant them full administrative rights, they could still unknowingly open the door to an attack.
  • Keep your computer updated. It is critical to keep Windows computers and servers patched—this goes for all third-party software, as well. This is why Centrality places a big emphasis on automatically monitoring and installing needed updates. Most updates are security fixes to plug holes discovered by either companies that look for vulnerabilities on behalf of software developers, or by malware authors that have used/exposed a vulnerability.
  • Educate your users. Don’t open email attachments unless you’re expecting them and limit web browsing to business oriented websites. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have legitimate business uses, but users need to be wary of clicking any links—if it isn’t business related, you shouldn’t click on it. Don’t be afraid to use your browser’s privacy settings and be sure to set up a pop-up blocker with your browser. Some companies will send out frequent communications educating their employees about new phishing scams and viruses to look out for.

What are the most typical ways viruses are caught?

When it comes to introducing malware into your system, email is the biggest culprit. The worst viruses come hidden in PDF files or ZIP files. A large part of the time they come from places that wouldn’t generally have access to your email address anyway—think the post office, UPS, Fed-Ex, the IRS— but they may also come from people you know, who have been infected or their email address is being faked.

Another road a virus can take is sneaking in via temp directories used to download website content; viral content is then downloaded and installed, often without a user’s knowledge.

What are some common repercussions of catching a virus? What do they typically target/attack?

Currently, the worst virus out there is Crypto. These various crypto viruses will encrypt most of the files on your network and will require you to pay a ransom (yes, money) to decrypt the files. A backup and disaster recovery program can be essential to recovering your system from this type of virus, minimizing harm or data loss. Even with a backup in place and everything 100% recoverable, it could mean hours, if not days, of downtime for your company.

But, I have a Mac, I don’t have to worry about this stuff…right?

Not quite. Apple has long been thought of as impenetrable when it comes to contracting the dreaded computer virus. However, that’s not entirely accurate—a Mac can’t catch a PC virus, but they aren’t entirely foolproof and a few years ago the Flashback malware famously exploited this point by detecting a security flaw in Java and infecting approximately 600,000 Apple computers.

The best course of action is to still be wary of your usage no matter what type of machine you are working on. Remember, an ounce of prevention…

For more information or to learn how to better secure your system, contact Centrality.

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