Online threats come in many forms. Here we give you an overview of the most common.
‘Malware’ (or ‘malicious software’) is the collective name given to the many forms of software used to infiltrate your computer and modify or steal the data on it. The most common of these are:
A computer virus is a software program that copies itself onto a computer without the knowledge or permission of the computer's owner. Depending on the type of virus, it may be able to log your keystrokes (covertly log the keys struck on your keyboard) and allow unauthorised and malicious access to your computer. Viruses are spread by computer code that attaches to a legitimate file and is then spread over a network, the Internet or through removable devices such as floppy disks, CDs, DVDs and USB drives.
A Trojan is a piece of software which appears to perform a certain action but in fact performs another. Trojans are not a computer virus and unlike a virus, it does not propagate by self-replication but relies heavily on the exploitation and deception of an end-user. They are notorious today for their use in the installation of backdoor programs which can cause different levels of harm, including: deleting or modifying data; recording keystrokes to access your personal or financial data; deactivating your firewall or anti-virus software; and installing other viruses.
Spyware is software designed to spy on your online activity and browsing habits. It may be relatively harmless; collecting information about your interests in order to serve you targeted advertising. Likewise, it can be malicious, scanning your hard drive and capturing your personal information, such as banking details and passwords.
Adware is software designed to install pop-ups and advertising on your computer with the objective of generating revenue for the author. Adware, by itself, is harmless; however, some adware may come with integrated spyware such as keyloggers and other privacy-invasive software.
Scareware comprises several types of scam software offering limited or no benefit and sold via unethical marketing practices designed to cause anxiety or represent a threat to the user. Currently one of the fastest growing types of internet fraud, scareware typically takes the form of fake anti-virus software where users are bombarded with pop-ups designed to trick them into believing their computer system has a large number of infected files. In reality the problems do not exist and the recommended software purchased by the user often contains real malware which then attacks and infects their computer.
Unsolicited email or ‘spam’ is the starting point for many email scams, the purpose of which is to defraud you or damage your computer. The convenience and anonymity of email enables scammers to work in volume. Even if they fool a tiny percentage of the many thousands of people they email, their scam can pay dividends. Below are some common email-based scams you may encounter:
These promise the opportunity to make or save a great deal of money, either through bogus business opportunities (get rich quick schemes), health and diet scams (promising quick fixes, amazing results or discount pricing), discount software offers (offering cheap and often malicious versions of popular commercial software) and advanced fee fraud (where the victim is enticed into a bogus plot to acquire and split a large cash amount).
Phishing emails are used by fraudsters to try to encourage people to willingly surrender their personal information (such as their usernames, passwords or credit card details) usually by fooling them into visiting a bogus website where they either download malware or reveal sensitive personal or financial data. The emails appear to be from a legitimate organisation, often banks, social networking sites or online auction sites which then direct the recipient to a fake website which is carefully crafted to appear almost identical to the one it’s imitating.
Remember! A legitimate organisation will never email you to ask you for your:
- Banking details
- Credit or debit card numbers
- Driving licence number
- Email addresses or usernames
- Your full name and date of birth
- Your postal address
Trojan and virus emails usually offer something you may be interested in, such as an attachment containing a joke or photograph. When opened they can harm your files, allow attackers to infiltrate your computer or install software that logs your keystrokes or monitors your online activity.