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Advanced threats target your computer

Published: Friday, April 26, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

We’re familiar with common computer viruses like adware and Trojan horses. But there are more virulent threats out there, including keyloggers, ransomware, and rootkits.

Keyloggers record everything you type. Even the best password isn’t going to get past a keylogger, nor will antivirus software protect you. Some keyloggers are hardware gadgets that fit between the keyboard and computer, but the majority are programs that hide at the lowest levels of your system.

Usually keyloggers invade via malicious links in email or dubious Facebook apps. Once inside, they set up shop where neither you nor your antivirus can see them. Keyloggers are especially dangerous because most people never know they’re there, even when they start having problems with their computer or credit cards.

Ransomware is a category of viruses that hijack your computer and demand money for the release of your data. They often disguise themselves as antivirus programs, which is why you need to make sure the security software you use is legit.

Ransomware locks you out of your system with dire warnings. Sometimes these warnings pretend to be from the FBI or other legitimate law enforcement. Sometimes they claim you have odious child porn on your computer. Whatever the scheme, they always want one thing: pay up or we wipe your computer, post your secrets, or some other form of online blackmail.

Rootkits are stealthy programs that grant back doors to hackers so they can remote-control your computer. Rootkits are used to steal data and install keyloggers, ransomware, and other malware.

Rootkits should not be confused with built-in remote desktop programs, although those can also be used against you. Common scams involve contacting the victim by email, Facebook, or even phone, and convincing them to open up remote access so “tech support” can help them. Never grant remote access to your computer unless you know who’s on the other end.

It’s difficult to get rid of these advanced threats. Their entire purpose is to bypass your usual security precautions. Cybercriminals will do anything it takes to get you to click, and they are skilled at disguising bad links as good ones. These viruses can infect mobile devices too, so you need to run antivirus everywhere.

Prevention is key. Make sure you are running the absolute latest version of your antivirus software. Go for the paid version for optimal security. The rest of your programs need regular updates, too. Windows users, try Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector for a quick way to keep track of your programs and their updates.

If you’ve been infected by these advanced threats, you may have to reformat your computer. Even the best security tools can’t guarantee removal because the viruses can regenerate from the smallest remnant. While reinstalling can be time-consuming, there are drive imaging programs and other tools that can help. I’ll post a list on my Tech Tipsblog.

Reliable backups are your best friend, but they can become infected too. Be very careful when restoring data lest you end up re-infecting your computer.

• Triona Guidry is a freelance writer and IT specialist. Her Tech Tips blog (http://www.guidryconsulting.com/techtips) offers computer help and social media advice. She can be reached at info@guidryconsulting.com or via Twitter @trionaguidry.

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