A new computer costs hundreds of pounds and so users should take consideration when surfing the internet. It is vital to be mindful of harmful websites or downloads, that may be linked with viruses and malware.
Computer viruses are software programs that are created to be transmitted from one computer to another and to impede or affect the performance of a computer. Viruses are capable of deleting everything on a hard drive or corrupting single files and can embed themselves into emails or instant messages, to infect further computers. They have also been found contained within image attachments, e-cards and video and audio files. Unofficial downloads are often a huge source of the majority of viruses contracted.
A macro is designed to control frequently used tasks. They are written by software developers but some can be potentially harmful. Some are able to monitor keys that are pressed or when a mouse is clicked. More sophisticated macro’s known as VBA’s are written as code and can essentially hijack the functioning of multiple programs on a computer. As a result this can facilitate the spread of a virus throughout a system. This could be brought about through a destructive document, which is why Microsoft Office has a feature known as the ‘Trust Center’ to protect against viruses of this kind.
The Trust Center will check the following details before enabling a macro, embedded in a document:
- It will primarily check that the digital signature provided by the computer programmer is valid and up to date.
- Also it will ensure that the digital signature has been authorised by a respected Certificate Authority.
- Finally, it will make sure that the developer who entered the signature is a recognised publisher.
- A security warning will appear if there is an issue with any of the former information, stating that the macro has been disabled.
- If a security message appears requesting authorisation to enable a macro and it is from a trusted source, then you can click ‘ok’ to enable it.
Protecting your Computer from Malware
Malware is an abbreviation of ‘malicious software’ and is any software that becomes installed on a computer system without being authorised by the user. They come in many forms such as viruses, worms and Trojan horses. Determined internet crooks, are hyper aware that people will attempt to download protection software for their computer and will also take advantage of this fact. It has been known for individuals to pay for bogus software or to be in fact downloading malware in the process or have their identity stolen. Users should try to avoid offers of free antivirus software as it could be a potential scam.
Fake virus alerts or ‘scareware,’ are programs that intentionally mislead the owner of a computer to believe that downloading software will be beneficial for security. Often,it will provide partial or no security advantages and will attempt to convince users to provide card details with frequent pop-ups. The windows that appear will claim that software is currently out of date or that there is spyware or malicious software present on the PC. Once the link is clicked, then the rogue program is installed on the system. In some instances, it may not detect viruses or it will display that a virus is present, even if it is not.Or sometimes, it will purposefully install a virus onto the system, so that recognition looks legitimate. It may even prevent access to official antivirus sites.
The following protective procedures are recommended against malware and are free and safe for users:
- Make certain that automatic updating is activated and regularly check the computer is up to date.
- Keep the firewall switched on.
- Do not open any dubious emails or click links on unreliable websites.
- Regularly scan the system with Microsoft Safety Scanner, which is frequently updated and available online.
There have been reports of scammers calling people and falsely stating that the victim has a virus on their computer, or offering to fix computer troubles. They have either been known to con victims into installing malware on their system or hijack its operation from distance. In extreme cases they have obtained financial information and charged for harmful, free or non-existing services. Some of these cyber-criminals have also been claiming to be from Microsoft themselves.
In April 2014, a man from Luton received a 4 month prison sentence and was forced to provide £5,665 pounds in compensation, for the organisation of a Microsoft support scam. Victims in the UK, US and Australia were contacted from an Indian call centre and asked to use a program that keeps a record of activities on a user’s computer. They claimed that there was an issue with the system and offered antivirus software that is available to download for free through Microsoft. The agentsthen remotely installed the program and charged £35 to £150.
The chairman of the National Trading Standards Board said it was, “a stark warning to anyone else doing it that they can be caught and will be prosecuted.”
The US Federal Trade Commission also seized the accounts of 6 tech support scams back in 2012 but this did not include the former. Anyone who receives calls of this nature should disconnect the line and contact Action Fraud, as Microsoft will never contact customers by telephone.
Avoiding Scams whilst browsing
- In Internet explorer 8, the URL is highlighted in bold and the rest is displayed in lighter font to identify a web addresses identity. There is also a Smart Screen filter that will present warning about websites that may be harmful or could lead to identity theft. It acts by checking a live reference list of known phishing and malware sites in order to protect the user from detrimental websites or software downloads.
- The tool must be turned on through the safety button and by clicking ‘turn on SmartScreen Filter’. Internet Explorer will then present warning screens that will advise not to proceed in accessing websites or downloads that are potentially unsafe.
- If you choose to register for a Hotmail email account, this also has adopted Smart Screen technology to decipher any phishing attempts and other spam emails.
- Microsoft Office Outlook employs a Junk Email Filter in versions 2010 and 2007, that assesses individual inbound emails for features that are often found in phishing scams.
- Outlook also has another anti-spam feature. In some emails presented in HTML format, pictures of audio can be included. However, spammers can use this method to obtain your email address. Once opened this verifies that an email address is operational. Email addresses are then sold on to other junk email distributors, which in turn generates a greater volume of spam into an inbox. Outlook will automatically prevent instant picture downloads and the user is able to unblock at their own digression.
- Phishing is an internet criminal’s methodology of obtaining sensitive or bank account details belonging to an individual. Emails are known to contain links that redirect to offending websites that may request personal or financial information. This could lead to identity theft.
- Emails that are deemed suspicious are instantly sent to the junk email folder and the reply button and any links are subsequently disabled.
- To open attachments safely, Outlook will prevent the functioning of malicious scripts during a preview. But only attachments which are from reliable sources should be opened. Outlook will prevent any attachments that are able to run programs and could possibly contain viruses. These will include any file names that end with .exe, .bat,.com,.vbs and .js. If sending attachments that end with these characters, then a warning message is displayed stating that other users may not be able to view the attachments as it is potentially harmful. Other file types are not automatically blocked but will present the user with a cautionary message to encourage them to consider the content they are about to download.
- A full list of blocked files can be found at http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/outlook-help/redir/HA010354417.aspx?CTT=5&origin=HA010355583 and these can be changed at the users will.
Reporting a Scam
- When using Internet Explorer, clicking the safety button and selecting the Smart Screen Filter an option exists as ‘Report Unsafe Website.’
- As a Hotmail user, emails can be marked as ‘Phishing scam.’
- However, in Outlook, the email must be attached to a brand new email and sent to email@example.com or an add-on to report junk email can also be downloaded.
Microsoft advises to minimise the threat of infection by downloading the most recent software updates and using antivirus programs. Being aware of the latest threats is also suggested, whilst always accessing a PC as a standard user, rather than an administrator profile. Microsoft also offers the following free software downloads, available online through its website to protect users from both viruses and malware;
- Microsoft Security Essentials (those using Windows 8 or Windows RT need not download this software.)
- Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT)
- Windows Defender
- Windows Live Safety Scanner.
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