Cybersecurity isn’t really like it’s usually portrayed in the movies. Here are some myths that people always seem to think about cyber-security.
If I get malware, or my social media account gets compromised, that means I was hacked.
It probably doesn’t mean that at all. While the movie industry has got us thinking that hackers are all super intelligent enigmas writing code to “bypass firewalls” and “accessing mainframes” with the intention of hacking your computer or your online accounts with digital magic, the reality is that nearly all attacks on personal users happen because the user was tricked into committing a security faux pas. Probably a security faux-pas we’ve warned against making dozens of times on this site.
This could mean entering their login details on a spoof website, opening an email attachment, using poor passwords or reusing the same ones, downloading files from an untrusted website or using out-of-date or unsupported software.
We might feel compelled to vaguely attribute security issues we face to “hackers”, but the most effective way of keeping ourselves safe online is to ensure we follow good security habits at all times and not to compromise our own security.
So remember, if you click some suspicious link on a random email and then proceed to enter your Facebook login details on the resulting webpage, no. You weren’t hacked. You were scammed.
Viruses and malware are the same thing
Another myth propelled by the movie industry (and often the media) who frequently use the terms virus and malware interchangeably. A computer virus is a type of malware. But these days it’s not even a particularly popular type of malware. In fact, nearly every time you’ll hear the term computer virus, it’s probably being misused to describe another type of malware (like ransomware, spyware or keyloggers.)
Computer viruses are categorised by the way they spread between computers. They infect a legitimate file, and travel with it. And they’ll execute whenever the legitimate file is executed. But in more recent times malware is frequently downloaded directly to a device (usually after a user opens up a malicious “loader” file in an email attachment or after a security vulnerability is found) or as a worm, which spreads by itself using security vulnerabilities in software.
The myth is perhaps also propelled by the term antivirus, which is linked to another popular myth – antivirus software only looks for computer viruses. No, it doesn’t. Antivirus software looks for all types of malware, and could be more aptly referred to as antimalware software.
I have security software installed so I’m safe
While we may like it to, security software can’t keep us safe from ourselves. Think of security software like an alarm system for your house. It’s great at keeping intruders out, but if you leave your front door wide open at night, it’s still probably only a matter of time before you get robbed.
Security software helps a lot at keeping your devices safe and secure and can block many of the most current threats. But if you don’t follow good security habits then you’re still likely to wind up at risk.
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I don’t open visit dodgy websites so I won’t get malware
Firstly it’s important to know that malware doesn’t just come from visiting certain types of websites. In fact malware is frequently deployed through email attachments or through malicious websites designed to look like legitimate websites.
But legitimate websites can also spread malware if they’re compromised. Vulnerabilities in the software a website uses such as plugins can result in legitimate websites trying to download malware to your computer.
I’ll know if my computer is infected because it’ll be slow or I’ll see pop-ups
This myth owes its persistence to the fact that is used to be accurate. Well, at least somewhat accurate. Back in the early days of the digital era, computers were less able to handle multiple programs running at the same time. As a result a malware infection could slow things down considerably. And one of the most popular types of malware was the (by today’s standards) relatively harmless adware, which served up spammy popup adverts or diverted you to spammy websites.
But those days are long gone. Most computers today can handle multiple programs effortlessly, and so a malware infection isn’t likely to have any noticeable effect. And adware has been replaced by much more dangerous malware like keyloggers and ransomware.
Consequently, malware is harder to detect, and many forms of malware such as backdoor malware or spyware can be designed to run covertly on a computer for long periods of time without the user ever knowing.