With so much going on in the world today - terrorist attacks, wars, politics - most of us are focused on anything but our own computers. There were times in the past, such as the year 2000, when various computer viruses had brief but intense moments of infection that captured our attention. Perhaps one of the most famous modern viruses came out in the year 2000. It was called the ILOVEYOU virus and was so powerful that within a few hours of its release it had infected millions of computers throughout the world. This virus did all kinds of fun things like erasing the entire list of files on an infected machine.
It was right around the start of the new millennium that computer virus began to move from the realm of the malicious, but singular hacker, to the new tool of gangsters, criminals, and finally governments. For a list of most computer viruses of significance ever made, click here.
The ascendance of Apple and smartphones seemed to diminish the public's fear of the destructive power of viruses. This was mostly due to this equipment being either new or less open to direct manipulation by the person using the tool. Fast forwarding to today, if you were to ask people in your workplace or group of friends whether or not they were fearful of computer viruses, you'd probably get a "No" response.
Well, as they say, ignorance is bliss. Except when being ignorant can cost you your data, identity, business, national economy, or maybe even your uranium enrichment facilities. The scary truth about cyberspace is that it has become the lifeblood of both individuals and governments. Just like people couldn't go without email or the Internet for a day, the economies of many 1st and 2nd world nations are dependent upon stock markets that exist only in a virtual world. Untold damage can be done without ever harming any "real" property. The movie "Fight Club" predicted this over 10 years ago.
I referenced Stuxnet in the link above. This code was one of the driving factors in the terminology upgrade of "viruses" to the new moniker "malware" (stands for malicious code). Several years ago the Iranian government had many of its uranium enrichment facilities infected with a very unique piece of malware. It was ingeniously coded to activate when the Iranians used computers to run their centrifuges. The code caused the machines to spin wildly out of control, break down, and even explode. Until then, that type of event was only possible in science fiction.
Today, IT specialists in both the corporate world and the government fight a tireless battle against the proliferation of malware. It is a tight-fought battle because there are almost 100 new types of malware created every day. The truly frightening thing to consider is that malware has the ability to do almost anything. It is a testament to IT security professionals that most people are not aware of the true magnitude of danger that exists. Yet, take a look at this slideshow to understand how fast the threats are growing.
A very important fact to remember is that quite a bit of malware is designed and targeted at you as an individual. Criminals and governments aren't just going after companies like Target and Sony. No, they want to get to know you as well. Intimately. As I write this blog it is almost certain that a majority of you who are reading it have had your own home equipment infected. While most of the malware is designed for minor things such as redirecting your browser, others are not so. In fact, in 2013 one of the most heinous pieces of malware ever made burst on the scene. Called "CryptoLocker", this code, once on your computer will encrypt all of your files. Once finished, it will pop up a window that starts a countdown of five days and instructions on how to wire $300 to an offshore account. If you don't pay up, after the time expires all of your data is hopelessly locked up forever.
CryptoLocker is so horrible that it actually spawned a new category of malware called "RansomWare".
As an employee, trust that your company is locked in an ongoing, bitter "cold war", with criminals of all types to keep you safe. As an individual, you must take steps to protect yourself. If you don't, it is only a matter of time before you become a victim. That is, if you are not already one. Do the research on how best to protect your own cyber assets. If you don't want to spend the time, take my word for it and go download, install, and purchase the full version of the "Malware Bytes" protection software. You might be surprised at what you find after running your first scan....