Today’s media is awash with stories of how brand new computers are being infected with malicious software before they even leave the factories where they’re made.
Software giant Microsoft claims that 20% of the computers it tested were infected with viruses. One, called Nitol, could potentially steal personal information that will give criminals access to your bank account, or make your computer part of a network that topples large company websites through what’s known as a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.
Sounds terrifying doesn’t it? As do many of today’s headlines. It’s easy to see why consumers (and companies) could be worried about these findings. A statement from security specialist FireEye, says:
‘It seems that today’s ever-determined hackers have truly upped their game and taken cybercrime to the next astonishing level. According to Microsoft, some of the malware was capable of remotely turning on an infected computer’s microphone and video camera, posing a serious cyber espionage issue for consumers and businesses alike.’
Are we too afraid?
Personally, I don’t think phrases such as ‘cyber espionage’ and ‘next astonishing level’ are particularly helpful. A previous Which? Computing report has shown that a basic belt-and-braces approach to securing your computer can help you to stay safe.
Providing you have a firewall, anti-virus software and ensure that these and your operating system are kept up-to-date, you’re unlikely to fall victim to malware.
Education has a crucial role to play, too, and it’s important that people are aware of the dangers of so-called phishing attacks and other scams that use social engineering to con you into clicking on malicious links.
But being educated about the risks associated with certain software shouldn’t always mean panicking whenever something like this hits the headlines. Indeed I think these panics can lead to a rise in scareware whereby would-be criminals attempt to sell fake security programs.
Time for a reality check
Take this story, for example. A cursory glance at the news stories could lead you to believe that 20% of new computers coming out of factories have malware on them, but that’s a long way from the truth.
In reality, Microsoft digital security officers examined 20 computers in total from different cities in China. Twenty per cent equates to just four computers. Only one of these was infected with the aforementioned Nitol virus. True, as FireEye comments:
‘If the exploitation of supply chain vulnerabilities should become an emerging trend, it should be taken very seriously indeed, as it the impact could be far-reaching, costly and destructive.’
However the key word here is ‘could’. Four infected computers don’t make an epidemic. I’d imagine that infiltrating a computer manufacturing plant is tricky stuff. Not impossible, but nothing that should spread panic among those looking to buy a new PC.
My advice to anyone buying a new computer would be as follows:
- Update your operating system and anti-virus software as soon as you go online
- Make sure your firewall is turned on
- Download an anti-spyware program
Personally, I’d like to see security companies spreading more useful tips on staying safe, to make sure that people have the correct support in place, and don’t panic the next time malware hits the headlines. What do you think?