Home' LAPTOP Magazine : February 2012 Contents up your computing power to run their self-serving
Fortunately, there are several signposts that
can help you tell whether your laptop is indeed
infected, or just outdated. To help spend less
time fretting and more time deciding what your
next steps should be, we enlisted the expertise
of Jacques Erasmus, chief information security
officer for Webroot, and Catalin Cosoi, global
research director for BitDefender, both leading
❶ Pop-up windows attack.
Pop-up windows—especially those that occur
frequently and unexpectedly—can be indicative of
malicious software installed on your computer.
“Pop-ups are certainly a sign that you may be
infected,” said Erasmus. “T his is normally a sign
of adware or a trojan clicker.” Erasmus explained
that malware authors get money for each click and
“Basically, adware tries to increase rankings
of websites through advertising,” Cosoi said. “By
clicking on those [pop-ups] you’ll increase the
revenue for displays, companies, and increase
the rankings on Google searches.”
One or two pop-ups might be harmless, but
be wary when they start to occur more and more
frequently. Clicking on them is never a good idea.
“ Some of them can lead you to different malware
samples,” Cosoi confirmed. “ T hey’ll convince you
a certain product or service exists to hook you,
but it could just be more bad software installing
itself on your PC.”
So the next time you come across that ad for
designer handbags at 97 percent off or a clos-
ing sale at the Amazon electronics department,
think twice about whether this would be a likely
promotion, or if it just seems too good to be true.
With a badly infected PC, you’ll end up paying a
lot more in time than whatever savings that ad
❷ Your online bank account
has mysterious withdrawals.
It’s a scheme known as Internet banking fraud,
where malware can embed itself in your computer
and detect when you access online banking
sites. The software can record your username
and password and transmit it to the offending
party, after which the information is used to make
withdrawals, move money to another account, or
“To confirm if you are infected, look at the
time of login for any evidence of additional fields
that you would not normally see at the bank login
page,” Erasmus advised. “T hese may be asking
for additional pieces of information such as an
ATM PIN number, or asking for more letters of
your password.” Say, for instance, that the bank
normally asks for three letters of your password
and now it’s asking for six. This may be a clear
sign that you have a banking trojan on your
machine, which does form injections to try and
steal your credentials.
Cosoi also weighed in. “There are two ways
offenders can gain access to your bank account,”
he explained. “ One of them is by installing malware
in your computer, which contains keylogging
components.” T hese programs will record every
key you press, letting offenders have access to
your credentials. And then they can further use
your account to make withdrawals, for money
laundering, or to take money from your account
and transfer it to theirs.
You can also fall victim to phishing scams. In
other words, you might find yourself on a fake page
that tries to pose as your bank account. “They try
to look exactly like your bank, with an area for a
login as well,” warned Cosi. “But logging in actually
brings you to a different website—and you gave
them your credentials.”
Public computers, such as the ones in Internet
cafés and airports, are especially susceptible
to this type of threat; never use them to access
sensitive information such as your online bank
❸ Some of your settings have
changed without your intervention.
You work regularly on the same PC, and though
you don’t glance at your settings every day, you’re
pretty confident you remember how you’ve set
them up. So you’re taken aback when your desktop
suddenly looks a lot different than it did the day
before. What’s going on?
Your computer may be infected, Cosoi said.
“D ifferent user settings that change without the
user’s intervention, like your homepage, icons that
point to different applications—things like that can
indicate your PC is sick.”
If something looks wrong, chances are it is.
❹ Your laptop slows down.
If your computer gets bogged down doing menial
tasks that it used to do effortlessly, it may be
infected with malware. Some pieces of code are
carefully programmed to go undetected, and their
main objective is to steal part of your computing
muscle to power malicious activities online, such as
spreading viruses, generating spam, and installing
spyware on other computers. It’s a big sign you
may have a virus, though detecting whether the
source is malicious can be tricky.
Erasmus agrees. “T his could be an indication
of an infection; however, this could also be due
to some software you have installed that might
be consuming a lot of CPU cycles,” he said. “It
really is a mixture of various factors which will
all come together to indicate an infection.”
So what should you look out for? “Some signs
to watch out for are when websites are loading
slower, or opening applications takes longer than
usual,” Cosoi suggested. However, only a positive
virus scan result can confirm that you actually
have a virus rather than a legit program that is
slowing down your computer.
❺ You’re randomly connected
to various websites.
When your PC is infected with a virus, it’s pos-
sible that the malware will force-connect you to
websites in the background and send information
back and forth with these sources. So how does
malicious code wreak havoc on your PC in the
“You can get infected by using pirated soft-
ware, downloading or opening attachments
in your spam folder, or even just by visiting
different websites,” explained Cosoi. He said
that malware writers exploit the vulnerability
in a web browser and then manage to inject
a little piece of code called a downloader.
The downloader will then start connecting to
different servers or different websites.
When it comes to malware on your PC, it’s best
not to take any chances. Take advantage of your
antivirus software and scan your system regularly
to see if you’re infected. Any decent antivirus
package—including free ones—will give you
advance notice of an infection, hopefully before
you see one or more of these warning signs.
They’ll also help you remove the malicious files.
That said, you must remain vigilant by keeping
your antivirus software up-to-date and watching
for the above warning signs.
“ You can get infected by using pirated
software, downloading or opening
attachments in your Spam folder, or even
just by visiting different websites.”
— Catalin Cosoi, global research director, BitDefender
Laptop | February 2012
SIGNS YOUR PC IS INFECTED
UPGRADES & tiPS
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