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How to protect your devices from viruses and other malware attacks in 2021

 

Note: This article has affiliate links.

 

It is safe to say that as long as there are computers, there will be computer viruses. It’s an inevitable risk that comes with owning a computer, much like the risk of catching a cold during the winter season or getting teary-eyed while cutting an onion. Of course, these references are not perfect, but you get the point.

Computer viruses are named after human viruses because of their ability to transfer from one infected file to another. However, unlike most human viruses, computer viruses are man-made. A computer virus is essentially a computer program designed to attach to legitimate computer programs and fulfill a malicious action. Some computer viruses corrupt your files, making them unreadable. Others hijack your web browser or corrupt your hard drive formatting; the list goes on. 

In the case of smartphones, there are no programs that replicate like computer viruses, especially in Android devices. However, there are several other types of malware (malicious software) for Android and iOS devices. As expected, these programs are designed to cause harm to your files or some sort of discomfort to you. 

You’ll soon know how computer viruses infect computers. There are different types of viruses; we’ll share with you some of them. You’ll also find out some of the attacks caused by viruses and other malware programs.

mcafee antivirusUsing an antivirus package such as Norton or McAfee can help you protect your devices from viruses and other malware programs, but taking some care when visiting the internet can make a difference. You’ll soon find out about some precautionary measures you can take.

 

How viruses infect your computer and smartphone

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By the way, devices that cannot access the internet or install a program are not at risk of catching a virus, so if you have a phone that only makes calls, viruses shouldn’t bother you. 

Computers and smartphones get viruses almost the same way. The problem usually starts after downloading a malicious program with a code to self-replicate and cause harm to your device. You can download a malicious program off the internet or through file sharing (Bluetooth, WiFi, and file transfer). 

Being cautious when online is probably the best way to avoid viruses and other malware attacks, but using one of the best antivirus packages available, such as Norton or McAfee, can also help you protect your devices against these viruses. 

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Let’s review 5 common ways to get a computer or phone virus:

Downloading infected email attachments or clicking on a spoofed URL

The virus gets into your computer or smartphone through your email. However, the virus only becomes active after you’ve downloaded and opened the attachment in the email or clicked on a spoofed URL. 

Text-only emails don’t carry viruses unless they have an embedded link to a spoofed website.

These spoofed emails are designed to look legitimate; even a seasoned security expert can fall for the bait, so it’s important to properly study an email before clicking on a link or downloading an attachment. 

Emotet is an excellent example of a virus delivered by email as an attachment. It is designed to cripple IT systems. In some cases, the malware is tweaked to demand ransom from its victims.

Luckily, email service providers like Gmail are proactive with email security. An email can be listed as spam even before it gets to your inbox if it exhibits scammy qualities; however, it is not infallible.

Removable media

This is a common way of exchanging files between laptops or from a laptop to a phone. Sadly, when you connect removable media to your phone or laptop, you risk getting a virus. If a file on the removable media is infected, it will then infect your device. And this cycle continues until the removable media is scanned and treated for viruses.

Rubber Ducky is an example of a virus that travels on USB drive and infects your PC by encrypting your files. A USB drive with Rubber Ducky malware comes with preinstalled keystrokes to self-activate once it is plugged to a computer. Rubber Ducky can encrypt your files with your knowledge.

Internet downloads

Many computer programs and smartphone apps are delivered over the internet. Depending on your operating system, you may download most of your apps from Google PlayStore, iOS App Store, Microsoft Store, or Mac Apple Store. Sadly, in recent times, security experts have found some malicious apps on these official platforms.

Android users are particularly vulnerable due to the open-source nature of the Android platform, but Google has been equal to the task. The American multinational company removes malware apps on Google PlayStore as soon as they pop up.

As it turns out, apps on official app stores may not be as risky as those downloaded off the internet, on random websites promising you unrestricted access to a paid app. Several viruses can be attached to free downloads or cracked apps. Once they are installed, the contaminated programs execute the hacker’s code. 

It is then advisable to stay away from illegal downloads because these files are transferred peer-to-peer or uploaded without verification, unlike apps on official platforms. 

To be clear, downloading from third-party app stores falls under internet downloads. Third-party platforms have far less restrictive app approval policies than official stores like Google Play and the iOS App Store, so they have double risk. In 2020, 9game.com was listed as the most dangerous place to download programs. According to RiskIQ, 9game hosted over 60,000 malicious apps in 2019 and contained more malware than its competitors. 

For example, VMOWO City: Speed racing 3D was removed from Google and flagged as a malicious app, but it is still on 9game. Like several other apps banned from Google PlayStore, VMOWO City: Speed racing 3D is classified as a riskware. This type of malware is used to bombard the phones of unsuspecting gamers with ads.

Unpatched software

This risk arises when software has a security hole – an exploitable weakness in its code. When hackers discover this flaw, they exploit it by adding a code to the program. As expected, these extra codes allow the hacker to execute a malicious action. 

Security holes can be found in any app, popular and not-so-popular, small and large-scale apps like Microsoft Word, Adobe Flash Player, Zoom, etc…. Just recently, Adobe warned of a critical vulnerability in Adobe Acrobat Reader that has been exploited to target Adobe Reader users on Windows.

According to Adobe’s report, the vulnerability (CVE-2021-21017) has been exploited in “limited attacks.”

Similar incidents have occurred in the past, and it takes a while before the holes are discovered. Hackers find these flaws by actively looking for them in popular apps for malicious purposes – it’s a full-time job.

Consequently, software makers like Microsoft and Google routinely check their products for security holes and release updates to fix issues. They also upgrade the security of their products to match recent virus threats, so it is recommended to use apps from well-known software makers. And that is as important as getting the latest version of these apps once they are available. 

Social media and online ads

Hackers exploit social media’s friendly ambiance to share spoofed links to unsuspecting people. It just so happens that this trick is super effective as thousands of people have lost their accounts or other sensitive information after clicking a link shared on social media. 

If you think about it, you can understand why this trick is effective. It is easy to assume that everyone on social media is trying to connect by sharing an interesting video. However, that is not the case. Hackers use fake social media accounts to share spoofed links. Recently, a trending Facebook video titled “IS THIS YOU” was flagged as a login stealer (key logger).

The same trick is applied to online ads. In most cases, hackers publish verified and legitimate ads on popular websites before replacing the link with a spoofed link. So it is vital to check the link address before interacting with a website. 

Types of viruses

norton antivirusWhen a virus gets into a computer or smartphone, it executes the virus developers’ command, and that can be anything from encrypting your files to request for a ransom, to installing apps and showing random ads, or adding your computer to a network for brute force attacks. 

In the tech world, viruses are classified based on their activity on your computer. Classification helps experts narrow down the primary target areas of a virus and the best remedial solution. Some of these virus types are the following:

Before discussing further, note that the term “virus” refers to malware that modifies legitimate programs in a way that when the program executes, the virus is also executed. 

With that in mind, there are approximately 8 types of computer viruses. Each has a unique name and mode of operation (impact on your device).

Boot Sector Virus: This virus was common in the early days of computers when users had to boot from a floppy disk or external media. As its name suggests, a boot sector virus affects the boot sector, making start-up impossible without removing the virus. Luckily, the boot sector virus is not much of a threat as modern PCs can boot without a floppy disk or external device.

Some popular boot sector viruses include NYB (also known as B1), Form, Monkey, and Stoned

Browser Hijacker: This virus infects your browser and redirects you to a website you didn’t request. Some browser extensions behave this way, which is a red flag. Any software that hijacks your browser without your permission is capable of worse. 

Examples of browser hijacking viruses are Babylon Toolbar, MyStart.IncrediBar Search, and Conduit.

Resident virus: If you’re a fan of the resident evil series, you must have read the heading with a grin. Like the zombies in the movie/games, the resident virus is a tough kill. Unlike other types of viruses, a resident virus installs itself in your computer memory. This allows it to work even after the infected files have been removed. 

In some extreme cases, especially when you have a weak antivirus, a resident virus can infect files of your antivirus software. You need a special tool to remove it. So it is vital to use one of the best antivirus software/tools on the market, such as Norton or McAfee.  

Meterpreter Trojan is an example of a resident virus that runs in computer memory without writing itself to disk.

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Direct-action virus: A direct-action virus infects programs on your system but does not install itself to your memory. Depending on the hacker’s command, a direct-action virus will infect EXE or COM files. However, a direct-action virus is easier to remove than a resident virus.

An example of a direct-action virus is the Rugrat-B virus; it attacks 64-bit Windows.

Multipartite virus: While some viruses have a defined method of attacking a legitimate program and affect a victim, multipartite viruses infect in different ways and take different actions. A multipartite virus, such as Invader, can infect the boot sector and program files, making them difficult to remove. Even if you remove the virus from your program files, it will reappear as soon as you reboot your system.

Polymorphic virus: Experts at Symantec agree that polymorphic viruses are extremely difficult to remove because of their design. A polymorphic virus changes its binary pattern (signature) every time it infects another program. As a result, regular antivirus software struggle to track down the virus and eliminate it. 

VOBFUS, VIRLOCK, URSNIF, and BAGLE or UPolyX are some of the most notorious polymorphic viruses in existence.

This is not an exhaustive list of the types of viruses in existence. Over 450,000 new malware programs pop up every day! However, many viruses have a similar architecture to the viruses mentioned above. 

Five of the most dangerous computer virus attacks

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History has taught us that computer viruses can cause untold economic damages. The impact of a virus depends on its design. Some of the most dangerous computer virus attacks in the last decade were caused by ransomware, trojans, and viruses.

ILOVEYOU

ILOVEYOU is a decorated member of the “worst computer virus” hall of fame. It infected over 10 million computers and caused about $15 billion in damages. Surprisingly, the virus isn’t complex by today’s standards, but it had an irresistible appeal. The developer disguised the virus as a love letter from one of its victims’ contacts and spread it via email. The virus was concealed in the attachment “LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.vbs.”

By clicking on it, a Visual Basic script (a programming language that lets programmers change code) was launched, and the virus began overwriting random files on the user’s computer. The worm also replicated itself and distributed copies to all contacts in the user’s address book.

ILOVEYOU infected over 10 million Windows PCs. The unexpected rush generated by the “love” bug forced the Pentagon, the British Government, and the CIA to shut down their mail systems altogether.

Tiny Banker Trojan

Tiny Banker Trojan (TBT) is a virus that targets financial institutions. It was discovered to have infected more than 24 large banking institutions in the United States, and it is based on a modified and scaled-down version of another virus known as Banker Trojans.

TBT infects the system and browser using different techniques, and it then retrieves the data transferred between you and the banking website. Once you log in, it produces a fake pop-up asking for login credentials while utilizing the original logo and the name of the actual website.

Cryptolocker

CryptoLocker ransomware encrypts files on Windows systems and then demands a ransom payment in return for the decryption key. It initially appeared in September 2013 as part of a persistent onslaught that lasted until May of the following year. CryptoLocker duped victims into downloading malware files attached to emails.

Zeus

The Zeus computer virus is an online stealing tool that is reportedly responsible for 44 percent of all banking malware assaults. Before it was discovered, Zeus had infiltrated 88 percent of all Fortune 500 businesses, 2,500 organizations in total, and 76,000 machines in 196 countries by that point.

The Zeus botnet was a collection of applications that collaborated to take control of machines for a remote “bot master.” It was invented in Eastern Europe to move money to hidden bank accounts. 

Reign 

Reign was a highly sophisticated virus used by the US government to spy on citizens. The virus spreads via infected flash drives and bogus web pages, and it has a Trojan Horse at its heart.

As soon as it enters your system, Reign begins installing additional malicious applications that monitor your computer and provide a detailed report to the creator of the virus – the NSA.

It took some time for antivirus software to notice its presence, during which time hundreds of accounts were hacked.

Is your computer or smartphone virus ready?

malware preventionTo make your computer or smartphone virus ready you need to install a virus watchdog, such as Norton or McAfee, which is an antivirus with real-time protection features that scans existing and incoming files for traces of recorded viruses. 

Installing an antivirus is one of the best ways to protect your PC or smartphone against viruses. However, the antivirus you choose makes a difference. As mentioned earlier, some viruses can nest in your antivirus folder, which means it may remain undetected. 

Your preferred antivirus for your computer and smartphone should offer military-grade protection and real-time virus threat updates. 

 Norton, an antivirus

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When choosing an antivirus for your computer or smartphone, quality (effectiveness) comes first. Afterward, you can consider pricing. In this case, Norton Antivirus is one of the best antivirus software that checks all the boxes. Norton has a credible history in the digital security space. 

With Norton, you get a smartphone, computer, and online privacy protection in one bundle. It gets even better when you consider the cloud storage space for backup and the slew of identity protection features the product offers.

Your subscription package determines the features you get. The four major plans are Norton Antivirus Plus, Norton Premium I, Norton 360 with LifeLock select, and Norton 360 with LifeLock Ultimate Plus.

Norton Antivirus Plus: This is Norton’s base subscription package. As such, it is the most affordable plan you can get from Norton, $84.99 per year. If you move quickly, you can take advantage of Norton’s ongoing 50 percent discount offer, $34.99.

Norton Antivirus Plus offers military-grade protection like any other Norton plan, but it has lesser features. You can use the subscription on 5 PCs simultaneously. There is no mention of smartphones in the list of devices, so you may be required to get another plan for your smartphone.

With the Norton Antivirus Plus, you get 2GB cloud backup storage space, antispyware, antivirus, and ransomware and malware protection. The plan also offers online threat protection, a smart firewall, and a password manager.

Norton 360 Premium I: The list of safety features increase when you opt for the Norton Premium I plan. For $124.99 per year, you get multiple layers of protection for your devices and online privacy to match.

Again, if you are fast enough, you will take advantage of Norton’s 75% discount on this plan. That means you will pay just $49.99 for the first year.

That said, here are some of the best features of the Norton 360 Premium I.

Real-time Threat Defense for Your Device: Norton’s multi-layered, 

sophisticated security helps safeguard your devices against documented and new malware threats. This coverage extends to your online activity, especially your personal and financial information when you go online.

VPN security: With Norton’s no-log VPN, you can browse secretly and securely. The VPN offers bank-grade encryption to help keep your information, such as passwords and bank account information.

Dark Web monitor: You never know if hackers are using your information to impersonate and steal until it is too late. That is why you need Norton’s dark web monitor. Once you activate this feature, Norton will monitor the Dark Web for any of your personal information. You will get an alert if the bots find your information on the dark web.

Password Manager: With the password manager, you can safely and securely generate, save, and manage your passwords, credit card information, and other credentials online.

100GB Cloud Storage: This is one of the main draws of this plan. You get 100GB of Cloud storage space on sign-up. This space stores and protects critical information and documents from hard drive failures, stolen devices, and ransomware.

Parental Control: This feature allows you to keep track of your children’s activities so you can be confident that they are exploring, learning, and safely enjoying their linked world.

SafeCam: When hackers attempt to hijack your webcam, the SafeCame feature sends a warning alert and assists you in blocking them.

Remote learning support: Since the COVID-19 pandemic, remote learning has become a norm in many parts of the world. Now, you are required to use the internet to access education. The same rule applies to children; therefore, turning off the internet on your child’s device is not an option. 

With Norton Premium I, you can manage your kid’s remote learning environment and keep your youngster engaged during the school day.

Norton 360 with LifeLock Select: If you want a full-featured Norton software, consider going for the Norton 360 with LifeLock Select. This plan is designed to meet your virus protection, privacy, and identity protection needs in every way. Only the Norton 360 with LifeLock Ultimate Plus tops this plan in terms of features.

Norton 360 with LifeLock Select comes with all the Norton 360 Premium I package features and more.

The more being – LifeLock Identity alert system, One-Bureau credit monitoring, and million-dollar package protection.

The LifeLock Identity Alert System: This feature notifies you if your Social Security Number, name, address, or date of birth are used in credit or service applications.

Credit Monitoring: When engaged, the credit monitoring feature monitors significant changes to your credit with a major credit bureau and notifies you to assist in detecting fraud.

Million Dollar Protection Plan: You can call this an insurance policy as it provides reimbursement for stolen funds and coverage for personal costs with limits of up to $25,000, as well as up to $1 million coverage for attorneys and experts if needed to help recover your identity.

Data Breach Notification: When active, the data breach notification feature notifies you about data breaches at organizations that hold your data – hospital, insurance company, or your favorite grocery store.

SSN & credit card alert: If hackers ever get your social security number (SSN), you should expect them to try accessing credit facilities with your information. Thanks to Norton’s SSN & Credit card alert feature, you can monitor your current credit card for fraud and get a notification if a new credit card is opened in your name. 

For $149.99 a year, the Norton 360 with LifeLock Select offers protection to a maximum of 5 PCs, Macs, tablets, or smartphones.

Norton 360 with LifeLock Ultimate Plus: This is Norton’s most comprehensive plan for online privacy, virus protection, and identity theft protection. Looking at the features, you can call this plan an extended version of the Norton 360 with LifeLock Select. In addition to offering the entire features on Norton 360 with LifeLock Select, it comes with impressive identity and financial security protection features.

Phone Takeover Monitoring: Phone Takeover Monitoring protects against mobile phone number takeovers by tracking port-out or carrier changes, SIM card changes, and number disconnections.

Alerts for Bank and Credit Card Activity: Norton’s financial transaction monitor will help you keep track of the activity on your existing accounts with notifications. You will get notifications for cash withdrawals, balance transfers, and significant purchases to help safeguard your funds from fraud.

Monitoring of False Identity: This feature assists in the protection of your identity by scanning for names and addresses associated with your Social Security Number.

Scanning of Court Records: When enabled, Norton will search court records for matches of your name and date of birth on court records to assist safeguard against criminal identity theft. This protects you from being erroneously connected to arrests and convictions.

Alerts for 401(k) and Investment Activity: Like the credit card activity monitor, this feature helps track your 401(k) and investment accounts. You will get notifications of withdrawals and balance transfers.

For $349.88 per year, you will get the Norton 360 Lifelock Ultimate Plus.

Antivirus for gamers

norton 360 for gamersNorton has a subscription plan for gamers too. The Norton 360 for gamers offers multiple layers of protection for your devices, digital assets, and gaming accounts. Most competitive gaming takes place online. That means your gaming device and accounts are exposed to hackers. 

With the Norton 360 for gamers, you can be confident that your gaming device, accounts, and digital assets are protected. Norton 360 for gamers comes with strict online safety and game optimization features, such as

 

Dark web monitor: Built for gamers, this feature monitors the dark web for your personal information, such as gamer tags, usernames, or email addresses.

Game Booster: When activated, Norton GO directs extra power to your game, boosting performance for smoother gameplay.

50 GB Cloud Storage: This plan offers 50GB Cloud storage to save your gaming clips online, freeing up disk space.

Secure VPN for DDoS and doxxing attacks: By disguising your IP address using a no-log VPN, you can browse more securely and anonymously, helping to defend against DDoS attacks, doxxing, and SWATing.

SafeCam for PC: Hackers and spy apps can take over your camera to monitor your activity. Norton’s SafeCam feature helps avoid potential stream bans and humiliation caused by someone attempting to access your webcam. If the software detects that someone is attempting to access your webcam, it will alert you and assist you in blocking them.

Last Words

Without question, viruses are a threat to everyone with computing devices, PC or smartphones. And as computers become integral to our lives, the potential of viruses causing more harm increases.

 The only way to avoid losing your data or computer to a virus is to learn about them and the best ways to protect your device.

 It can take physical and digital effort to keep your device safe. You shouldn’t download cracked software or download apps from unregulated websites/platforms. Also, you have to avoid plugging unscanned USB drives and other removable media into your computer. The same caution should be applied to clicking links on social media or in emails and downloading email attachments.

That said, physical actions won’t insulate you from all types of virus threats. You need top-rated antivirus software to protect your computer from any threat.

Norton antivirus offers top-notch security for a reasonable price. With as low as $84.99 ($34.99 promo price), you can get virus protection for one year under the Norton Antivirus Plus plan.

 Norton, one of the best antiviruses on the market, is an industry leader. It doesn’t just provide tools to remove viruses; you also get tools to prevent hacks and ensure online privacy. Norton’s smart firewall is solid hackproof protection for your PC any time. It doesn’t get better than this.

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