Always Practice Safe Computing
The web has definitely seen a rise in the sophistication of attacks of late. The combined threats of viruses, trojan horses, works and phishing attacks are known as "malware". Malware writers are generally crafty people but they have truly become agents of evil. Their efforts mainly cause havoc on computers. Some manage to extract financial gains from their work but this is obviously not productive. No, the agents of malware are a scourge on the technical community. Their actions are essentially evil, at worst, and annoying at best. Regardless, there is an incredible amount of money and time devoted to the combat of malware. It is a problem that must be addressed.
During the past few years, culminating in mid-2012, malware writers have become very sophisticated. This is indeed unfortunate. Their wares are better able to spread across the Internet. They are more difficult to remove. They exploit weaknesses quickly and can even adapt to evade capture. Average computer users often have little defense against the worst kinds of malware. Instead, normal people will often become infected with a virus or similar attack and then they must devote time, money, and usually both, to combat the problem. The worst attacks will require infected computers to be treated by highly skilled computer technicians. Inevitably, there is also a drop in productivity as the problems are resolved.
Most computer users have up to date antivirus and anti-malware programs installed. (If they don't, they should have.) Despite this protection, many users become infected. This is because the antivirus programs monitor threats against a list of known problems. When a totally new malware is encountered, it is not on any list. Thus it is able to exploit the computer community for a period of time. This vulnerable time is lengthened even after the malware is identified by the eradication programs due to the tendency of many users to avoid updating their computer software regularly. As mentioned, this situation causes a loss in productivity and the expenditure of money for repairs.
In addition to a good malware protection system, that is frequently updated, computer users should have system backup utilities enabled. These allow the contents of the computer to be saved to an offsite location. Vendors offer various options at affordable prices now. The best solutions are those that will automatically copy files to an Internet location each day. Some premium solutions will constantly copy files to the Internet backup site. These are cloud server storage solutions which have become very easy to use. They have the benefit of allowing all valuable data to be saved automatically. In the event of a malware attack, files can be restored when needed. Offsite Internet solutions also protect against damage to the computer as well.
When the problem of malware is examined, it becomes clear that the current situation is complicated by the operating design of Microsoft Windows. Despite the seven released versions of this software, (soon to be eight), systems using Windows continue to be extremely vulnerable to malware attacks. Generally, this is due to the lack of operating system isolation levels within the supplied software. All users are able to run programs which can perform updates to the core of the Windows system. As such, these Windows systems are essentially personal computers with very little active protection. As mentioned, the up to date anti-malware programs are doing what they can but they are reactive not proactive. The safety of the computer system would be greatly enhanced if there were distinct protection layers installed with true protection rather than the patch-work that exists today.
A version of Windows that used protection layers would look like the UNIX operating system or perhaps the OpenVMS system. These use separate authority levels for users and system staff. In the normal case, a user would read and send email and surf the Internet and would not need to modify the core system. Such users would have normal, (or low), levels of security. They would not have the right to update any installed core software. If a system modification was necessary, such as the installation of a new program, a separate login would be needed to accomplish the update. There is this distinction in the Windows server versions but it should be enacted in each version. Truthfully, the basic home versions have more security options now but they are difficult to work with. Most users opt to de-regulate their systems. This allows better day-to-day operations, (and eases program installation), at the expense of reduced protection from malware.
Ultimately, the world should begin to combat the malware perpetrators with force. The major credit card companies should install protective measures that decrease the ability of malware to electronically charge for service. This could be as simple as having all online merchants register their sales pages with the credit card agencies. Legitimate vendors would provide various forms of verification. The PayPal service already implements this type of mechanism. The result is a reduction in the use of PayPal for unscrupulous activities and the increase in user protection.
The world's major search engines and email servers could also play a part in the eradication of malware. When reports of malware are sent to the search engine security staff, for example, the offending Internet addresses could easily be removed from the search engine results. As well, those responsible could be tracked down through their search engine submissions. Such interference in the evil site of computing could easily be implemented with little negative effects on the normal users. This would also be true of email servers.
Malware is often spread by email, accidentally, of course. Users sometimes send damaging software attacked to normal looking messages. Sometimes the malware sends itself using an infected computer's address book. The messages are often caught by email servers, but not always. Users should have the ability to activate strict email filters that minimize the change of both sending and receiving malware via email. Luckily, many email services are now available which monitor spam for you, deleting it automatically.
With the rise in complexity of viruses and other malware, users need to be more careful than ever when they use their computer. Use secure passwords. Use anti-virus and anti-malware utilities. Backup your computer system. Take charge of your own computer experience because there are a lot of people trying to ruin it for you.