Best tips to protect yourself from malware infections during the COVID-19 era

By Julie Hughes on 9th March, 2021
Malware attacks around the world have risen almost a hundredfold. The rise of the attacks is due to more people working remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Most people do not have the complex security systems that are in place in their offices. Hackers have taken advantage of this lull in security to compromise networks and steal sensitive company data being sent over unsecured networks.
The pandemic has given rise to panic and people tending to click on links sent by hackers without a second thought. Here are some of the different malware attacks affecting people globally.
Ransomware is among the most common cyber risks during COVID and involves a hostage-like situation. A common scenario is an email coming into your inbox. The email looks legitimate, say from your company, highlighting the COVID-19 prevention measures and what to do in case you are infected. You innocently click on the link, which unfortunately triggers malware.
The next time you come to your computer, a shocking message is displayed on your screen. Your computer is encrypted and you cannot access any data. The message asks you for payment in Bitcoin in exchange for a decryption key, or the hackers will leak your data. Getting the key is not a guarantee, and you can only hope they will release your data.
Towards the end of October 2020, a security firm called MalwareBytes discovered ransomware buried within a fake survey on health that targeted staff at UBC (University of British Columbia).
Spyware is by definition any software or even hardware that empowers a hacker to secretly steal data from your devices. The spyware keeps a tab on all your activities online such as emails, social media, etc. The spyware records all your keystrokes word for word and the hacker does not even need physical contact with your device.
With spyware, malicious actors can track you for a long time without your knowledge. The spyware gets into your computer when you install a new app or program. Most of the time, spyware is installed without your consent, often as drive-by downloads or when you click on an option in a malicious pop-up window.
COVID-19 contact trace apps are some of the apps that hackers can use to trace you. A contact trace app is one that helps in the identification of all the individuals a COVID-19 patient has been in contact with for the past two weeks before diagnosis. The apps ask for permission to access your contact list and other information, which exposes you to potential data leaks if you install a fake or compromised app.
Adware is also referred to as advertising-supported software, which is a type of malware that hides within your device. The malware mints cash for its developer but the generation of automatic ads that pop up on your screen. The software is notorious for monitoring your browsing habits and bringing you customised advertisements that are based on the information they gather on your browsing habits.
While adware has the potential to be harmful, it is mostly an annoyance, especially when the adware developers sell your browsing habits to a third party, who keep sending the customised ads.
How can you keep yourself safe?
Staying safe from malware demands you to be vigilant, as well as use a few mitigating measures.
Activate Firewalls
Most devices on the major operating systems such as iOS, Android, Windows, etc. come with inbuilt firewalls. Good quality routers also come with firewalls that prevent your devices from attempted cyberthreats.
Activating the inbuilt firewall prevents any attacks and beefs up the security for better protection. If your router or device has no firewall, installing one works just as well.
Email Scanner
Investing in email scanning software goes a long way in scanning for viruses and malware in emails. Most anti-malware software comes with an inbuilt email scanner, but if yours does not, installing an email scanner is an option.
Most of these emails sent by scammers on the COVID-19 pandemic will be scanned for viruses and eliminated before they can do any harm.
Antimalware and Antivirus software
The installation of antimalware software ensures your device is protected from any malware that tries to access your data. Antimalware protects all your devices from malware such as adware, spyware, and other malware. Its work is to scan your system for any malicious software that might make its way into your device, and eliminate it.
An anti-malware by design eliminates malware, and it is similar to an antivirus. However, an antivirus only prevents viruses while antimalware has a broader range of coverage and more features. If any malware or viruses get into your computer via programs, email links, or apps.
Updating Device software
When device software becomes obsolete or needs an update, your device will often give you prompts to update. Most often, people do not update and click on the option “Remind me later.” When you update your device when you are supposed to, you patch up all the security flaws and bugs that developers have discovered.
The developers of your device software often fix any software vulnerabilities, release an update to the public, as well as the vulnerability. If your device has not been updated, there is a high likelihood of hackers using the released information to hack into un-updated devices.
Email security gateways
ESG (email security gateway) is a server that protects your internal email servers. The ESG is the gateway through which all your emails, both incoming and outgoing, pass through. Secure SEGs monitor all your emails and block all unwanted emails by delivering those that are beneficial and relevant.
DLP software
DLP (Data Loss Prevention) software ensures that there is no unauthorized misuse or access to your data. When you use DLP, you must classify your sensitive data, then take loss control measures. The DLP system works by preventing data within your internet traffic from leakages by first determining the confidentiality levels. Each document has a document marker that helps the DLP to evaluate its content and level of confidentiality.
Installing a VPN
A Virtual Private Network is an excellent tool that protects your devices in different ways. The app ensures that you browse anonymously as you connect to a VPN server location. This means your traffic is rerouted and your IP address is hidden.
Although a VPN does not prevent malware infection directly, it is an effective tool to protect your device from malware distributed on public networks. A trustworthy VPN is essential to encrypt your traffic and activities when you connect to unsecured networks.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the world into disarray. People who were used to going to offices now have to work from home. This is an advantage in the reduction of commutes but has given rise to the hike in cybercrimes.
Most people do not prioritize cybersecurity at home, but the pandemic is teaching people that even home network security needs to be beefed up.
Have you ever wondered how your smartphone can recognise so many different accents of the English language? What about how you can type in Urdu or Arabic words without using their alphabets and Google Translate still knows what you’re talking about? Have you seen those videos of toddlers screaming at Alexa to play the Baby Shark song?
All of these are real-life examples of natural language processing working its magic.