There you are–happily surfing the Internet, doing some research or maybe finding a good deal online for a new color printer. You click on an ad and read the contents of an informational site and, though you don’t realize it, you’ve been hit!
That’s right. Silently behind the scenes you may have opened yourself up to any of a number of exploits that hackers use to access your computer just by clicking on what seemed to be a legitimate link. Ironically, these scenarios are called drivebys, but you are the one driving by!
So what’s the motivation? Hackers program these exploits for any number of reasons and to accomplish any number of seedy purposes. But it can be something as simple as geeky bragging rights. And many times, the sites they use to deliver their payload may not even know that they are the delivery mechanism.
What They Do
Their ploys may include attempting to find out where you go on the Internet so they can then deliver ads that might be of interest to you. In the process, they can load what are called “Browser Helper Objects” which can slow your computer to a crawl and be difficult to remove from your system. Or, They can reroute your DNS (Domain Name Service) so that it sends all your search requests through their servers, providing ample opportunity to inspect and grab meaningful information.
Other exploits sometimes inform you that your computer is infected with a host of viruses and try to get you to pay for a program (a sort of hostage fee) to fix it. If you ignore the popup advertisements, they just keep coming back, making it impossible to do anything on your computer. Of course if you pay them, you are usually still infected and your credit card credentials have just been sent to who knows where and are in the hands of people you don’t want to have them.
Another very dangerous ploy involves the hacker secretly downloading a piece of software known as a keylogger. This is a small program that logs each keystroke you type. So, while using your infected computer, without your knowledge, this unseen program sends everything you type to the hacker. Such programs have the potential to provide a hacker with everything that is needed to steal your identity, compromise your bank accounts, access your email, and any other confidential information that you type at your keyboard after the keylogger is installed.
What You Can Do
It is critical to have a real-time virus protection software installed on your system. Read reviews of the most popular ones and choose the one that looks the best for you. Most programs will update automatically. You should also be sure to scan on a regular basis.
Be aware of anything unusual your computer might be doing. Does it seem to be running slowly for no particular reason? Is the hard disk light constantly flashing even though you’re not running a scan, downloading a file, backing up, etc? Are devices not working properly on your computer (i.e., does the mouse freeze, is sound coming from the speakers, is there activity on the screen that you am not causing)? Any of these things should tell you to disconnect from the Internet temporarily and try to do some troubleshooting to find the cause.
You may want to set up more than one user account on your computer. The first is the Administrator account, the subsequent, a user without administrative rights, not allowing installion of software. Use the Admin account to install all legitimate software. Then, use the user account to do your routine activities including surfing the web. If you click a link and a popup tells you you have to have administrator rights to proceed, you might be inadvertently installing something that shouldn’t be installed.
Also, be sure to have a firewall turned on. A firewall is designed to keep you safe from unwanted intrusions. A software firewall comes with Windows and is found in the control panel. If you want to get better protection, you should investigate a hardware firewall. These devices update themselves with threats that are identified by the company that makes them.
Finally, run a regular scan for adware. Adware is a general term for scripts that are downloaded to run on your computer and automatically present advertisements in order to get you to buy a product or service. They are so prevalent that is almost impossible to prevent downloading them occasionally. Again, get a list of the most popular adware scanners (some of which are free for private use) and download the one you like. Keep it updated and run it weekly to prevent your system from slowing down and your time from being wasted.
Being aware of all the things mentioned above will help you be on guard to prevent incursions. However, if your system does become infected, you can at least be aware of the infection and take steps to remedy the problem before more damage is done.