General information:

You may have heard the terms: virus, trojan, ransom and so on. The list is long. They are types of malware that are used for different purposes. If a computer or a mobile device is infected with malware, cybercriminals can access confidential and personal data stored in the system.

This open letter aims to raise public awareness of malware threats and offer protection solutions.

What is malware?

To put it simply, malware or malicious software is the same kind of software you have in your PC, notebook or smart phone and use every day (Word, Excel, Outlook, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and so on). How are they different from malware? – malware serves the sole purpose of giving its creator – a cybercriminal – full control over another person's device. If a malware is installed in a device, criminals may access personal files, online activity data, passwords and financial data or use the device to harm other people. A malware may restrict your access to your files – or, to put it in other words, hold your files "in hostage" and demand a "ransom". Some believe that malware only infects Windows, which is not true. Regrettably, other systems are also vulnerable to malware, including smart phones, surveillance cameras, Wi-Fi transmitters and even cars, not to mention Apple devices. The more devices are infected the more sources of income are generated. Therefore, a malware attack may be targeted at any user irrespective of his/her financial, social or confidentiality status.

Protect yourself from malware

According to popular belief, a powerful ‘antivirus' is enough to protect against malware. Regrettably, neither this is true. None of the currently available antivirus software programmes or even several of them can protect from all malware. On the one hand, malware is permanently evolving to adapt to technological challenges. Cybercriminals are looking out for new ways to bypass safety systems – and their efforts have so far been successful. On the other hand, antivirus software producers make remarkable efforts to upgrade their production and come up with better protection solutions. Fighting against malware producers resembles a chase in which "the bad guys are always trying to be a step ahead." As information security cannot always rely on antivirus software, additional preventive measures should be taken:

  • Malware mainly takes advantage of vulnerabilities in the software installed on your device. The newer the system the lower the risk of infection and hence of breaking the system. Therefore, make sure the operating system, software, internet browser and the device itself are updated to the latest version available.
  • A proven and prolific method to infect a computer or a mobile device is to create a counterfeit software that is near-identical to the original one and can be often misrecognized even by experts. It can be spread by websites, email, and even SMSs that contain the malware or a malicious link. Whenever you browse the web for resources, make sure the site is secure or familiar to you. Do not trust mobile applications that lack positive feedback, have a small number of subscribers or are rarely updated.
  • Do not root/jailbreak your smartphones. These methods render the built-in protection tools ineffective and contribute to the spread of malware.
  • Be careful with – or better refrain from – applications that request additional permissions to operate on your mobile devices and computers. If you decide to download software, always check the security of the website. Download mobile applications only from official software stores.
  • If you receive an email or SMS that asks you to follow a link or download an attached file, look out before taking any action. Check the sender and make sure the source can be trusted. If you have doubts, contact the source – an individual or a company – in person. If the text seems to have been written in haste or appears unusually formal, there is a chance it is infected. Common sense is often the best weapon in fighting against malware.
  • Back up personal files and data regularly. Store the backup files somewhere separate from internet-connected devices, e.g. on an external hard drive. That way, even if the computer is infected, the backup will still be intact. Very often, backup may be the only method available for restoring the data.