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Stopping the Spread of Malware

on October 30, 2012

We may think that stopping the spread of malicious software is the job of security system vendors. There are, however, a number of things we can do to prevent malware from spreading and causing damage. Let’s look at a few simple ones.

The inadvertent source – website owners

Do you own or run a website? Do you develop websites for friends, family or clients? Are you sure that any of these websites you own or manage do not host malicious content? Hackers often use websites that are not maintained or are configured incorrectly as a host for malware. As a result, you may be inadvertently giving your Internet readers more than they bargained for – or wanted in the first place.

How can you prevent this from happening? There are several steps to take:

1. Always use the latest version of the content management system (CMS). Whether you are using OpenCMS, Joomla, WordPress, Drupal, Magento, DotNetNuke, Kentico, or any other popular CMS, ensure it is fully patched and updated so that vulnerabilities are kept to a minimum.

2. Use the latest version of third party plug-ins (such as forums, shopping carts, newsletters, templates). Just like your CMS, plug-ins may have vulnerabilities. By running the latest versions, you greatly reduce the risk these vulnerabilities can be exploited.

3. Ask your host to help you secure your website.

4. Use Google WebMaster Tools to monitor your website’s health. Google WebMaster Tools will advise you immediately if your website is infected with malware.

5. Do not make use of pirated content management systems, templates, plug-ins, or anything coming from unreliable sources. These may carry malicious code and the price you pay is often far higher than if you had to purchase the original software.

Websites using old software are a primary source of infection on the web. Vulnerabilities in old software versions are exploited to infect visitors to your website. At times, even opening a website is enough for a machine to be infected – no download or user interaction is necessary. There are several tools that facilitate the exploitation of these security loopholes.

The middleman – IT admins

IT admins have many tools at their disposal to ensure safe and secure browsing for users. Traditional security mechanisms, such as firewalls and anti-virus software, whilst important, are simply not enough.

Let’s look at how these can help:

1. Use a corporate anti-virus solution to protect all your endpoints

2. Use Web security software to block security threats before they reach your users

3. Use anti-spam and email security software

4. Use vulnerability assessment and patch management software to keep all software updated and patched.

All these solutions are available in different delivery models – on-premise, cloud or hybrid. The best solution is that which fits your needs and IT environment.

The victims

Computer users can also take steps to ensure they are not the victim of a malware attack. First, make sure that potentially vulnerable computer software is updated; closing holes makes it harder for a threat to cause damage. It only takes a couple of minutes to install software updates. When you are prompted to do so, resist the temptation to click “ignore” or “later”. It takes longer to remove an infection or to format a machine.

There are other actions to take too:

1. Enable Windows® updates as these will address commonly exploited bugs on your computer.

2. Enable the Java browser plug-in ONLY if you need it. The Java plug-in is one of the biggest threats to your machine. Use the latest browsers, such as Chrome, which will allow you to enable the plug-in if, and when necessary.

3. Make sure Adobe Reader and Flash are always updated, and that auto-updates are enabled.

4. Uninstall ALL browser plug-ins which you don’t really need to keep your browser lean and clean.

5. Keep other browser plug-ins updated. If they aren’t, only enable them when you fully trust the website you are visiting.

6. Do not switch off or disable auto-updates on any software as these exist for a very valid reason. Software vendors provide updates to ensure you have the most stable and secure version of their software.

7. Do not use pirated software as this is often booby-trapped.

 

Tracking Malware in the Wild

Stopbadware.org have created a fun video on malware. It conjures up images of the late Steve Irwin, creating a “Crocodile Hunter-style” explanation of “Tracking Malware in the Wild”.

 

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About the Author:

David Attard has been working in various roles in the IT Industry for more than 10 years. He currently specializes in the Internet security space. He is Product Manager for GFI WebMonitor® at GFI Software™.