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4 basic security facts everyone should know

Roger A. Grimes | July 20, 2016
The bad news: It's you against an army of cybercriminals around the world. The good news: A little knowledge can provide an effective defense

4 basic security facts everyone should know

Today, almost all hacking is done by professional criminals. In many countries, illegal hacking accounts for more crime, dollar-wise, than noncomputer crime. The United Kingdom recently joined that club.

Why is this important? First, if you find malware on your system, there's a good chance it's trying to steal your money. Second, no one is getting arrested anytime soon. If you lose anything to cybertheft, don't expect to get it back -- most cybercriminals operate in foreign countries outside U.S. legal jurisdiction.

A friend's Facebook account got hacked last weekend, probably because he gave up his password in response to a fake Facebook email. The hacker used my friend's account to say hello to his Facebook friends and trick them into installing malware or sending money. My friend sent threatening emails to the hackers, telling them they messed with the wrong person and he would spend his last red cent making sure they got arrested. I have no doubt he gave them a good laugh.

In my nearly 30 years of fighting cybercrime, I've never heard of a victim getting money back from a hacker. Today's world doesn't work that way.

The good news is that arming yourself with basic information can drastically reduce the risk you'll become a victim. Consider these four points:

1. Two starting points lead to the vast majority of attacks

Unpatched software provides the main entry point of entry for hackers or malware, in part because very few computers have the latest updates for every commonly hacked program. The victim surfs to a web page or opens an email, and their computer is instantly, silently compromised. The second-most-common attack method: The user gets tricked into installing a Trojan. Together, these two methods account for almost all successful hacks.

Sure, there are hundreds of other methods: SQL injection attacks, password guessing, and so on. But nearly everything besides unpatched software and downloaded Trojans is statistical noise. In fact, if you fix the main two issues, you almost don't need to do anything else.

2. Trojans make up the biggest proportion of malware

Most malware can be broken down into viruses, worms, Trojans, or hybrids that combine features of two or more of those. Viruses spread by infecting other host files, which when run or accessed, fire off the malware program. Worms, once executed, are self-replicating; they don't need someone to do anything once they are started.

Trojans don't spread themselves. They rely upon each victim to execute the malicious program. The originating hacker must spread each and every copy to each victim separately, usually via email.


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