Even if you have virus protection software, Trojan Horses, SPAM and Malware – Oh My!

IT threats abound for small business owners.

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Wednesday Wisdom from Greg Mason, CEO and Founder, Merrimack River Technologies

MANCHESTER, NH Did you know the Granite State has over 130,000 small businesses and nearly all of them rely upon Internet technology and computer systems to serve their customers?

Add to that the myriad of daily challenges to keep themselves relevant and in the black, small business owners face dire threats when it comes to a host of online threats.  From SPAM to malware to viruses, each of these can cripple a small business.

But all is not lost!!

By understanding not only the threats but also where your business could be vulnerable, there are ways to protect yourself and preserve your profits.

First: let’s understand the threats.

SPAM.  Simply stated, SPAM is the use of the internet to send unsolicited bulk email messages, generally advertising. “Spammers” refer to the person or company who creates messages with the hopes of getting you to click on a link.

Spamming is inexpensive and easy to initiate.  A single click can transmit millions of ads, no postage required! Advertisers have no operating costs beyond the management of their mailing lists and it is nearly impossible to hold the senders accountable for their mass mailings.

And while most of us don’t click on SPAM messages – it is estimated that there is one consumer click per 12.5 million messages- when you consider that there are about 14.5 billion SPAM messages sent out each day, the odds are with the bad guys.

The costs of SPAM, such as lost productivity and fraud, are borne by businesses and by Internet service providers (ISPs) which are often forced to add extra capacity to cope with the deluge.

MALWARE. Short for “malicious software,” malware is a broad category that refers to software programs designed to damage or do other unwanted actions on a computer system.

Common examples of malware include viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and spyware. Viruses, for example, can wreak havoc on a computer’s hard drive by deleting files or directory information.

A Trojan Horse masquerades as a legitimate file or helpful program with the ultimate purpose of granting unauthorized access to a computer. It gets even more insidious.  They can be used to remotely view your screen while you use your computer.

Computer viruses are small programs that can negatively affect the “health” of your computer or file server. These malicious programs can create files, move files, erase files, consume your computer’s memory, and just generally cause your computer not to function correctly.

Just like the cold or flu, a virus cannot spread between desperate networks without human interaction (such as when one runs an infected program) to keep it going. Because of this, people will unknowingly continue the spread of a computer virus by sharing infecting files (via eMails for example).

Some viruses can duplicate themselves, attach themselves to programs, and travel across your office network. This type of virus is called a “worm”.

Spyware is another form of Malware and is intended to gather data from a user’s system without the user knowing it. This can include anything from the web pages a user visits to your personal or credit card information(!)

So, what’s the most common way to “catch” a computer virus?

Too Quick To “Click!”

The way most people activate a virus program is by clicking on an infected Email attachment.  Cyber crooks can be clever when it comes to enticing you to do just this. Disguised as attachments of funny images, greeting cards, or audio and video files, viruses are often spread by sending harmless looking Email messages (like to your friends, work colleagues or family members). How many times have you been in a rush to accomplish a task and just “clicked through” something – without really “looking before you leapt”? Just a few extra seconds of thought can head off hours of frustration!

So, what can you do to protect yourself and your business?

Hover to Discover…

We got an incredibly good-looking email from American Express just the other day – Logo? Check!, Links? Check!, Artwork? Looked legit. It was only when I used the mouse to “hover” over the source (the sender) of the email that I found that the traffic had actually originated from a private address in Germany.

Hovering is an important habit to get into – spammers can’t spoof the accurate Domain name of legitimate companies. Often, they will slightly misspell the name or append bogus official-sounding endings (“AMEX-INC.com”) to make the address look legit.

Remember! Not every scam is as obvious as the Nigerian Prince just looking for help moving his cache of gold bricks out of the country (you…didn’t actually fall for THAT one, right?).

NEVER open any Email attachments unless you know who it is from and you are expecting it. If you get a WORD or EXCEL document and it asks you to “enable MACROS”, JUST SAY “NO”. Because this has become a popular way to execute an extortion virus on your system.

Watch out for removable mediums such as CDs or USB drives. One of my favorite stories is about a cybercrook who would drop USB drives around parking lots of businesses.  The drives-also called sticks-would be picked up by people and plugged into their computers or devices, possibly enabling the crook access to their computer.  Put it this way, you wouldn’t pick up a comb off the street and use it, would you?

Some tips:

  • As every downloadable file may contain a virus, you should always scan files downloaded from the internet before using them
  • Businesses should establish a policy that states its employees are not to install any unapproved software
  • An anti-virus software must be installed in your computer; ensure that your anti-virus software is up to date.
  • Ensure that your operating system is up to date and patched with the latest security updates. For instance, you should enable Windows Update if you are using Microsoft Windows Operating System.
  • Use your Virus Protection solution to scan your computer on a regular basis and be sure your Windows firewall is turned on.

At the end of the day, being aware of the dangers is half the battle.  With almost three decades of proven experience in the Granite State, Merrimack River Technologies can provide the tools and training to help safeguard your business.

Still not sure what to do or think your network may have a virus? Give us a call at 603-669-4116 to schedule a no cost, no obligation network assessment.

Merrimack River Technologies, Inc is an IT solution company based in Manchester, NH.  The company provides support for a broad range of businesses including CPAs, Dentists, Manufacturing, and Veterinarians.  To learn how they can help your small business, please visit: www.mrivertech.pro