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Industry data has revealed that the number of malware attacks on individual computers and networks is increasing every year. In 2011, software firm Symantec was involved in blocking more than five and a half billion attacks, which represented an increase of 81 per cent on the previous 12 month period. It was also noted that there were 403 million new variants of malware discovered in 2011, a 41 per cent rise on 2010 and a sign that criminals are becoming no less enthusiastic about attempting to exploit companies systems and rip sensitive data.

This is especially important, as many business’s still neglect expert IT security consultants in favour of the DIY approach. As Microsoft puts it: "A computer virus is a small software program that spreads from one computer to another and interferes with computer operations." It could result in files being corrupted and rendered useless, or it could be used to delete data on a system. For businesses this is understandably a major headache and it is no wonder that billions of dollars every year is spent on protecting computer systems around the world from these attacks.

The most common way for viruses to spread is via email, according to Oxford University Computing Services and this is one of the main reasons why companies, organisations and individuals should always have suitable anti-virus protection installed on their machines. Software should be kept up to date via downloads from the supplier. Email attachments should always be treated with caution and if possible, documents should be downloaded first before they are opened, to ensure they are properly screened. If someone's email account is hacked then an attachment sent to you could still contain a virus, even though you recognise and trust the sender. Being wary is the best way to stay safe.

A worm is similar to a virus, but its main purpose is to reproduce as many times as possible. Again, email attachments are the most common way that they spread and so keeping virus protection up to date and exercising caution is the best defence.

Yet another piece of malware to look out for is the Trojan. These are so-called as they work in the same way as the Trojan horse used by the Greeks to gain entry into the city of Troy. Trojans look like a legitimate piece of software but in actual fact contain code that can seriously harm your computer system. According to Cisco they can have various functions, from annoying users by filling their computer screen with pop-up windows, to deleting files and drives. Trojans can also be designed to allow someone access to a computer system to commit further crimes.

But it's not just computers that are vulnerable to security attacks. In November 2011, a study was published which detailed how a team of programming specialists had managed to launch a direct attack on a Hewlett-Packard laser jet printer in America. By making use of the device's remote firmware update, two academics were able to upload malware that brought the device to its knees. For a business, the possibility that all of its printers could go offline at the same time could have devastating consequences and not only result in a substantial loss of revenue, but also impact on the firm's reputation.