As a small business owner, you probably spend a lot of time actively managing the day-to-day operations of your enterprise. You may have spent some significant effort developing your company's USP to establish your position in your market, but unless cyber or information security is your field, how much time have you spent thinking about the security of your computers and networks? Most businesses wildly underestimate the potentially damaging information that they possess, as well as the risk that they're facing from cyber attackers. From proprietary business information to customers' personal information, businesses possess a wide range of sensitive data that is extremely enticing to cyber criminals.
One of the greatest cyber risks facing small businesses is the threat of malware or malicious software. There are many types of malware, but before we get into that, it's important that we cover just what malicious software is. Malware is any type of software that is designed to exploit vulnerabilities in a computer or network. Your systems may be infected from any number of sources, but the common theme is that this software performs actions that are detrimental to the user even if they don't outright cause direct harm to the network.
Types of Malware
It seems like the list of malware is forever expanding, but some of the most common types of malware are:
- Trojan horses
Email attachments and file-sharing networks are all common ways in which computers and networks are compromised, and protecting your operating systems first requires that you understand what you're defending against. We'll give a brief overview of what each type of malware does, signs of a potentially infected device, how to remove malware, and then cover some ways to prevent malware attacks in the first place.
Viruses and Worms
Viruses and worms are similar in that they both spread across devices and networks. The main difference is that worms self-replicate and spread throughout network-connected devices once they have been installed on an infected computer. They require no further human interaction after that initial installation. On the other hand, malware viruses require humans to propagate across computer or network boundaries. Worms and viruses infecting computers can cause any of the subsequent attacks that we will talk about later.
A trojan horse is a specific type of malware virus that masquerades as a legitimate program, but much like its namesake, concealed within the program is malicious code that furthers the cyber criminals' objectives. Trojan horses are the most popular in file-sharing networks as there is sometimes little oversight in what is shared between users, and hidden code within a popular download can lead to many compromised devices.
Spyware and Adware
These types of attacks can install keyloggers, access cameras and microphones, and force pop-up ads to appear randomly. They can also be part of a more serious cyber attack looking to gain personal information in order to more accurately target a person through social engineering with the obtained data. Adware also frequently forces through ads that lead to further compromise once those ads are interacted with.
Ransomware is currently one of the most common malware attacks in use. There are multiple types, but all involve the takeover of all or part of a network or device pending payment of a ransom. Some ransomware attacks encrypt your entire operating system, others exfiltrate data and threaten to expose it, some take down other parts of your network with DDOS attacks, and there are even some ransomware attacks that do all three. The best way to avoid ransomware is to prevent malware attacks in the first place.
In order to remove malware, you first have to detect it. That requires the use of antivirus and anti-malware programs, but no software is guaranteed to work every time. Viruses infecting networks with ransomware are notoriously difficult to crack, and due to that, the best way to avoid struggling to remove malware is to find ways to prevent malware attacks before they happen.
Securing Your Devices
Some of the best ways to prevent malware attacks aren't technologically advanced. They're things that you can do as a small business owner that don't add much in the way of complexity to your operations but exponentially increase your security.
Keeping all of your software up to date is the very first thing that you should do as protection against malware. This closes vulnerabilities that could be exploited by certain types of malicious software. Everything from your operating systems to the smallest application you run should be kept updated at all times, and you must make sure to install patches and other security updates as soon as they are released.
Don't Use Administrator Accounts
Even if no one else is using your computer or network, don't conduct your daily tasks on an admin account. Create a user account with limited access, and use that account for your normal activities that don't require administrator access to complete. This reduces the access that a bad actor would gain should your account end up compromised.
Use an encrypted password manager for all passwords. There are numerous free-to-use options with financial-level encryption, so there is no reason not to use complex passwords and store them in a password manager or password vault. In the event of an infected device, keeping your sensitive information compartmentalized and encrypted reduces the likelihood that it will be compromised.
Train Your Staff
As social engineering is the most common way that malware is installed on devices, training your staff to recognize the signs of a phishing email or other social engineering scam is key. Recurring training and even test scenarios helping to reinforce those signs will prevent your employees from taking actions that allow a malware install to occur. It's probably one of the most effective ways to prevent malware overall.
Another important layer of protection is the use of a quality anti-malware or antivirus program. These software solutions can provide active monitoring of your computer and network to detect suspicious activity and other signs of an infected device. They can also remove certain types of malicious software from your system entirely.
At E-Marketing Associates, we aim to help you level the playing field with large corporations. We're small business specialists, so we know the challenges that you face on a daily basis. Reach out today to schedule your free business report or meet with our staff to see how we can help you grow and what tools we can provide for your unique situation.