The war against computer viruses is a multi-billion dollar industry, with no clear end or victory in sight. Billions of dollars are spent every year defending against malicious computer software (malware) and even more money is lost to the damage caused by malware, including computer repairs, productivity downtime and missed business opportunities, not to mention identity theft and fraud.
Even though computer viruses have been around since 1986, many computer users still don’t understand what they are or where they come from. Due mainly to media hype, even more people are still hung up on the notion that viruses come from “hackers,” i.e., pimply-faced teenagers living in the dimly-lit basements of their parents’ houses, furiously clickety-clacking away at a keyboard, devising evil programs to show off their elite computer skills by vandalizing websites and changing their high school grade point averages. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While there may have been a grain of truth to such thinking 15 years ago, such myths need to die their long overdue deaths. You’ve got to get the image of Dennis The Computer Menace out of your head and replace it with something akin to a high-tech Mafia godfather. The vast majority of modern computer viruses are not invented by teenage showoffs. Instead, they are invented by criminals. That’s right, viruses are invented by criminals to commit crimes, the main goal being to take your money.
Some viruses are designed to search your computer for Social Security, credit card and bank account numbers, as well as names, addresses and passwords. Some malware allows your computer to be controlled from a remote location and to be used as a tool to attack other, more lucrative targets. In other words, your computer can be used as a front for criminal activity and you won’t have a clue as to what’s happening. Other viruses will secretly use your computer as a distribution point for pornography and spam email.
Some viruses record everything that you type and send that information back to the mothership located who knows where; Chechnya, Nigeria or Little Dixie, Oklahoma. Some of the nastiest malware that I’ve seen lately, called “ransomware,” literally holds your computer files hostage, demanding that you pay money to get them back. But, like a kidnapping gone bad, you pay the ransom, but you never get the kidnapee back.
Reports show that identity fraud costs millions of Americans billions of dollars every year. At least 90% of all email traversing the Internet is now spam. Thousands of new, harmless-looking but infected websites are launched by criminals on the Internet every day, meaning that all you have to do is look at the website to get your computer infected. At least 20% of all legitimate websites are infected with malware, often in the form of infected ads. Click on the wrong ad and, bang, your computer is infected.
This enormous cyber-crime wave is not due to teenage pranksters banding together. Instead, it is a carefully orchestrated assault by the various organized crime syndicates of the world. The Russian Mafia, the Chinese Mafia, the New York Mafia or the Butte, Montana Mafia, it makes no difference; they are numerous, smart, powerful, highly organized and dedicated to cause of separating you from your hard-earned cash.
Nobody really knows where the cybercrime war is heading, but law enforcement is, for all practical purposes, unable to protect you from the Internet bad guys. At least now you know your enemy, which is the first step in circling the wagons and taking your protection into your own hands.