Staying ahead of the bad guys

The bad guys are good at finding new ways to exploit computing vulnerabilities.

Fermilab’s employees are a cyber-savvy bunch, and maybe you are more savvy than most. You are very careful in following secure procedures using your computer. You avoid clicking on links in email or visiting suspicious websites. You never open attachments from unknown origins. You make sure your systems are patched, your software is up to date and unneeded services are turned off.

And yet you still may get infected with malware.

Why? Because the bad guys are getting smarter all the time, discovering new bugs and security holes in software and developing new methods to exploit these vulnerabilities. Just in the past few weeks we have seen:

  1. ‘Invisible’ exploits delivered through web advertisements. Malware delivery mechanisms are becoming more sophisticated and in many cases can compromise your computer by your simply visiting an otherwise benign website that happens to display a banner ad containing code that compromises your computer.
  2. An increase of malware and viruses that target Mac computers. A recent report described a new piece of malware that can infect a Mac computer without prompting the user to take any action.
  3. Malware that is much harder to remove. Some malware and viruses are very persistent and can survive a routine reformat and reinstall of an operating system.
  4. Infections that hold your computer hostage. Some malware will encrypt or otherwise make your files unavailable to try to force you pay real money to the attacker.

So how can you avoid these dangers? Keep following all the usual good practices described above. Be very suspicious of new kinds of software applications. And make sure your data is well backed up. Lab security policies work to keep infections from spreading from one machine to another, so even if your computer does fall prey to one of the new exploits described above, your system can be wiped and reinstalled and your data can be restored from backups. You will quickly be back in business.

Irwin Gaines