Computer worms (as we’ve discussed before) is “any type of software that destroys data on a computer’s hard drive by ‘eating’ it.” But what does that mean exactly? A computer worm is a form of malicious software (aka “malware”) that replicates itself to spread to other computers or devices. It does this by “hitching a ride” on a data storage device (e.g., a thumb drive) and other remote capable media (e.g., a cell phone). It can also use a computer network like a wifi network or business intranet to spread. Since it doesn’t need to use existing software to spread, computer worms tend to be highly infectious. Once a system has been infected by a computer worm it replicates quickly and begins to destroy or corrupt data as it does. Even if a computer worm is minimally invasive it’s still using processes or resources slowing down a system’s speed or even affecting Internet bandwidth as it spreads ever outward.
It should be noted that a good portion of worms has no other purpose other than to spread and replicate, but some have been weaponized with a “payload.” This payload is often secondary malware that uses the worm as a free ride to other systems. Examples include: opening ports (a “backdoor”), hijacking processes to orchestrate a denial-of-service attack (aka a “DDoS”), install ransomware (a type of scareware that encrypts your files until you pay the software’s maker), and other less than friendly actions.
So how do you protect yourself from a computer worm infection? There are a couple of best practices:
- Security Software: If you don’t already have security software of some type installed on your computer you should immediately acquire some. You wouldn’t live in a house without locks on the windows and doors and security software, would you? Security software is the digital version of those things for your computer. It’s the first line of defense, but it can only defend you if you have it. STOPzilla AntiVirus is among the most competitively priced security software around.
- Constant Vigilance: Never open email from untrusted sources. And especially never run attachments. A common method of infection is by embedding code in something inconspicuous (like a macro within a Microsoft Excel file).
- Firewalls: Most computers come with some sort of firewall these days, but making sure it’s active is generally a good idea. Checking every couple of weeks for untrusted port exceptions (e.g., holes in your firewall) is also a good habit to be in.
- Digital Sanitization: Taking out the digital trash by emptying the recycle bin, removing old Internet cache files, etc. can help keep your system lean and mean. Programs like STOPzilla Optimizer can cut the tedium of these chores by automating them. This also includes your removable media like thumb drives or USB-connected cellphones. Always set your security software to scan anything that’s plugged into your computer and disable autoplay. The moderate inconvenience is worth it for the peace of mind it grants.