Protecting your network from viruses and other malware attacks is easier these days. But it's still possible for something nasty to get in. Viruses have evolved too.
You've probably heard of "phishing" attacks. And everybody knows about spam. The same technology can, for the most part, handle them all. But why the differences? What's the reason to create things like phishing attacks if viruses are out there? Why use spam if you can use a virus?
Because each has a different goal once it gets inside your network. Their goals range from a minor annoyance to business-screeching-to-a-halt serious.
Differences Between Viruses, Phishing, and Spam
1. Viruses. Like their physical counterparts (the flu, colds), viruses are small programs that multiply and spread themselves to other areas (in this case, computers). Viruses can do many things, from the basically harmless to the seriously harmful. Viruses have been found to:
- Copy information off your hard drive
- Delete programs off your hard drive (or wipe the drive entirely!)
- Use groups of computers to launch attacks at major websites or corporate servers
- Block Internet access
- Distract you with objects on the screen, or moving windows around
- Pester you with pop-ups
2. Phishing. Phishing is a process where someone tries to obtain secret information from you by persuading you they're actually some trusted organization. Large banks (Citibank, Chase), major websites (eBay, Facebook), large companies (AT&T, Amazon.com), even government branches (IRS).
Phishing usually works through email (though attacks using IM and social media have been reported). It's very dangerous—phishing attacks target bank accounts, corporate servers, etc.
3. Spam. Spam is the proliferation of email intended to sell you things. Some estimates put spam at 90% of all email sent these days. Spam is often used as a cover for phishing and viruses, but not always. Mostly it's just a pain to deal with.
That's a lot to protect from, right? Which is why antivirus programs have evolved over the past few years. Multi-tier protection is now available. Sometimes from several programs working together. Sometimes from one company producing multiple solutions, like Barracuda and Modus.
Here's a breakdown of the available antivirus protection levels.
Antivirus at the Server Level
Antivirus at the Email Level
--Exchange Protection/Edge Server
--Commercial Antivirus, Email Extension
Antivirus at the Desktop Level
--Desktop Extensions of Server-Level Antivirus
--Extensions of Exchange Server Protection
How to Avoid Virus Infection
Don't open email attachments you aren't expecting. Even if it appears to come from someone you know.
Keep your antivirus up to date. (Most antivirus programs will update themselves. You can update it manually as well.)
Delete any email that appears to come from the following organizations: the IRS, the US Treasury, or major banks like Citibank (unless you bank with them).
If you can, turn off images in your email client. Without images, virus and phishing emails often look distorted, with nonsense characters displayed. This helps you identify which to delete.
If you receive an email you're not sure is legitimate, report it to IT and leave it alone. Don't try to move or copy it.
Unfortunately, viruses and phishing attacks keep evolving as we build defenses against them. It's a never-ending problem that, while it's gotten better lately, still threatens everyone. Keep an eye out. And make sure you have antivirus protection at all the levels mentioned above.