Your PC, and how it could be your worst enemy

5th December 2023

Imagine you go into work every day and are met with a setup provided by your boss to do your tasks on. Imagine you wake up on a weekend and want to play games or watch new shows and your setup is neatly there on the same desk you always use. Imagine your data is being stolen and your files snooped on… and your setup is there, filled with malicious software that you unknowingly installed while roaming random websites and accidentally clicking suspicious links, and the cherry on this cake? There is now blackmail emails being directed to you with voice recordings of you saying regretful things or videos of you in private ways you’d rather not be known. You have just been attacked by the quietest killers in the technological world, Malicious software that you never expected to face. This is the direct influence of malware. A threat you probably think you’re “too smart” to face, yet don’t realise that’s what the creators want you to think.

What types of malwares are there?
Malware is usually commonly mistaken as one type of threat that is “more dangerous than a virus”, however, this is not the case.
In the world of viruses and malicious software, there are many different types of which you could unknowingly install or accidentally set up without even acknowledging they exist, below is a list of such types of malwares, all just as dangerous and painful to fix as the last.
Starting with the most common, Adware:
Adware is one of the most common forms of malware and can be installed in many ways. It can even come bundled with legitimate downloads such as antivirus programs. Adware is often referred to as more annoying than it is dangerous, as it’s a type of malware that floods your pc with popup advertisements and random notifications that will say obscure things such as “your antivirus is running out” or “this software will help you do a task”. Adware is still a huge threat however, as all it takes is you accidentally clicking on the link it provides or a button it shows, and it will then bypass admin controls and download a possibly more threatening software to your pc. Adware also bloats your pc storage and can impact the performance too, as constant popups cause your RAM (random access memory, a part of your computer that’s used to keep track of current tasks) to be clogged with a flow of random advertisements than constantly spew out every time you close one. As mentioned prior, certain antivirus software come bundled with a form of adware, but usually for its own service, although this may not be anywhere near as dangerous as adware that’s installed from random sources, it still holds just as much of a grip over your hardware and can still impact its performance. Below is an example of adware in action.

Now moving onto the other mainly common type of malware, a virus, although most people commonly believe that malware and viruses are different, a virus is just a form of malware:
Viruses are also yet another common form of malware, you may understand how this works, it’s a type of malware that latches to files and executes itself when those files are launched. Once executed, the horror story begins, as indicated by its name it will spread throughout all your files, from your word documents to your game files, corrupting, encrypting and eating your data as it roams freely through your device. Although they’re easy to detect, it is usually too late, as your files are already infected. Viruses may be common, but they are not to be scoffed at, they can easily ruin your career if they destroy your work. However, viruses are also one of the easiest to avoid, due to them needing to be executed and can still be detected before being activated if you scan files, you may feel are suspicious. The true safeguard against these menacing monsters is to remain vigilant and always scan files before opening them, regardless of who sent the file. Unlike adware, it is hard to truly watch a virus in action, as viruses tend to have different side effects with them, such as popups insulting you made by the creator, or moving files to random locations.

This next one is a virus, but with more extremity, a worm:
A worm functions exactly like a virus; however, it lacks the need for a human to activate it. So, you don’t need to execute a file or a program for it to start its terror. Worm’s do the exact same and can be detected in the same way, but the danger comes from them simply needing to be downloaded rather than downloaded and activated, once they have their roots planted, they begin their spread. Although not much else can be said about this type that my explanation of a virus hasn’t already covered, I can still give some information on how to avoid worms. Worms rely on you not updating your drivers (the firmware update of your pc parts, such as your CPU or your GPU, this can be researched easily and fixed if you are unsure, and most updated can be found in windows updates settings too after you click the search option) or on you just clicking random emails and allowing them to download files. The best way to avoid them is to make sure the email is from a trustworthy source, or the website can be trusted, do an immediate scan of your computer after any download you believe to be false or dangerous, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Just like the story of the trojan horse, a trojan malware is a deceptive and dangerous type, but unlike most other malware types, it relies on something called social engineering:
Trojan malware is usually installed when you are roped into a scam call or some form of “online support”. What mainly happens is you will get called by some “company” claiming they are a big brand, and you need to update your antivirus, or you need to do a firewall upgrade or some other form of lie. They rely on you not having any knowledge of the topic they wish to discuss and will try to weave their way into your computer that way. It usually ends with them sending you some sort of program which you download, and they may ask for some sort of code of which they enter on their end, these programs are usually a computer file sharing program which allows them to see any file they wish, or even just your entire screen of which they can also control on their end. Trojans are one of the most dangerous forms of malware, as it allows anyone who has the code free reign to your pc where they may download your files, roam through your search history, search your emails and so much more in terms of malicious actions. Although you may feel safe as you are “too smart” and understand these tactics, you are not their target, its your grandfather or your grandmother who is their target, someone more trusting who doesn’t understand technology and the effects of allowing this access. Trojan malware is also one of the most common forms of malware. According to in their statistics of malware installation, trojans were 58% of all known malware installations in 2020.
A direct threat of which is also created mainly in trojans is something called spyware, an attacker will install this type if program that allows them to log all forms of login details, keystrokes and other personal data of which allows them to have a full understanding of you as a person, enough for them to even start attempting to steal your identity. Spyware will snoop through files for certain keywords and data of which can be used against you or to steal from you.

Another type of malware that once installed can ruin your pc is ransomware:
Ransomware is another type of malware that occurs from accidental installations, once installed and activated (whether by the user running a program or it being instantly activated as a .exe file), it will lock your computer up with some form of screen that claims your files have been encrypted. It will try to force you to send cryptocurrency and/or money to some number, wallet or address of which it states in order to gain access back to your files and pc, however, you shouldn’t do this, as it is very unlikely you will get any access back and they may even ask for more now knowing you will send money for such access back. The best thing to do is to swallow the loss and do a fresh install of Windows on your pc, and hopefully see if you can download any backups of old files that way.

and last, but most definitely not least, rootkits:
On your pc, you may be required to have administrative access to download certain files and so you need to use the “run as administrator” option to download certain files or run them, this is to prevent you from downloading or running files that change directories or certain functions on your computer accidentally or without knowledge. However, imagine you are roaming one day, and an installation starts to occur, its something that requires admin access, yet you didn’t give such permission, this is the work of a rootkit, a form of malware that’s installed by attackers when you accidentally run certain infected files and .exe programs. Rootkits are possibly the most dangerous form of malware, as it allows someone else root level access to your pc, allowing them to freely roam in secret without you ever knowing, installing their own files and malware types, injecting malicious code or illegal files, happily waltzing across your directories leaving a path of destruction all while you are trying to figure out why a certain file had just downloaded itself. Rootkits are stealthy, concealed from your eyes, they can’t be detected by most antivirus programs and even malware specialist programs. Once a rootkit is in place, it is safe to assume that your attacker now has a copy of every single file you own, they have your bank details, your personal address, your phone numbers and emails. They now have everything and possibly so much more all because you ran an unknown program accidentally. The only true way to be rid of them, is to once again swallow your losses and do a fresh installation of Windows.
These malware types don’t just affect your pc, but can also affect your mobile device if installed, or really any device you have that allows you to install programs of which can access to its files or directories. In the modern technological world, malware is the biggest threat, as all forms can have devastating effects on your devices and run havoc for as long as they remain unnoticed.

How prominent is this as a threat?

“I lost about fifty family pictures and memories I’ll never get back, I had to hold myself back from punching my screen over and over, quite frankly, I was pi**ed off”

—Ryan Harmon

Ryan Harmon is a 55-year-old man in the US who had accidentally installed ransomware on his pc during the Covid-19 lockdowns. He, like many, was bored and trying to find a way to entertain his family, so he decided to roam websites for free movies they could watch together.
“I literally just searched up, “free movies to download”, I look back now and yeah it was dumb as hell, but at the time, I didn’t care or know. I clicked the first link I found and wallah, “free movies”. I started clicking and downloading file after file, I honestly felt excited seeing big new movies just sitting there you know?”
He, like many before, had fell for the trap of fake websites. “Free movie” websites that offer shady download links of which claim to be a movie but are instead a malicious file that when run will install some form of malware to your device.
“I never really noticed anything strange at all at first, I left my pc as it was for a while, but one day decided to look back on some memories. I opened my computer and boom; all my pictures were locked behind passwords, and a weird window said something about sending money to God-knows-who. I assumed it was maybe something I did, so I put passwords I use mainly in, none worked”.

In the hopes of getting free movies, he instead installed malicious ransomware, a type of malware that is almost impossible to get rid of without a full deep clean and reset of your pc. Ryan is your everyday working man in the US, a slightly older man who isn’t “tech savvy” in the slightest, the exact target of these types of malware and viruses. Malware and viruses are very common, so much so that there is even online guidelines and warnings on many websites advising you on how to avoid such threats, and there is multiple antivirus brands that all offer subscriptions to help you “avoid and terminate” such threats.
Another victim of a cyber-attack I had managed to speak to, is an elderly woman in the north of England, her name is Delia Roberts, and she sadly fell for a phone scam which lead to her installing a trojan and allowing full access to her personal computer to a scammer.
“This foreign man with a strong accent called me and said I was in danger, and he’d help me, he claimed my computer was going to be infected and attacked by people if I didn’t follow his advice. I panicked a lot and started crying and rushed to my computer under the assumption my life was in danger as he told me they could access my address”.
Like many elderly people, Delia was given an indirect threat as a scare tactic to push her to downloading malicious software. Under the assumption that this man was there to help her, to save her from a threat, she listened and followed his advice.

“He told me to download some weird thing, he then said to double click it and click the run option, after I did, he asked for a number it was showing me. I told him the number, hoping he could fix my problem.”

—Delia Roberts

This was all it took for the attacker to gain access, telling her to search a website and download a program, she did it, and this gave the attacker access to her pc after simply telling him a number. The next part of the scam is also common, they asked her for “activation cards” or as we know them, gift cards. There are many ways these are used, but that’s for another topic, the main threat here is that now the attackers can access her files.
“I got a few calls from my bank over suspicious transactions a few days later, at least 2 or 3 calls In the week after I believe, all claiming purchases were made, I thought maybe I forgot I bought things, but when I checked my bank account, I saw transactions from my amazon account and eBay account for multiple things like phones and expensive clothing, after calling for advice and to explain this wasn’t me, I told them about the possibility of it being a hacker on my computer and that the attackers should be dealt with, but they told me that the hacker was most likely the man who called me, and that he probably stole my accounts. After that, I changed my passwords and emails, and made sure to remain extra careful, but I’m still scared of it happening again. I may have gotten my money back and cancelled further orders, but what if it happens again?”
Malware is a horrible threat that is much more common than we choose to believe. Even though many antivirus programs claim to stop these threats with “100% certainty”, this cannot be guaranteed. It is easy for such viruses and programs to slip through the cracks. The only true way of avoiding these scenarios is to remain educated and to understand internet safety, the importance of hesitation when downloading from online sources.

A conclusion and a lesson:
When roaming online, imagine it as though you are walking through a town in the dark. It may seem safe as you have done it many times before, but you don’t know just what threats lurk around each corner. You should always check each alleyway (file you have downloaded) and ensure you have some way to protect yourself (your windows antivirus). Sure, that website you roamed may have been right about a download once, such as a random free game or movie, but how long until it gives you a nasty surprise? How long until it infects your device and removes personal files of which are too valuable to miss? The UK government website has a guide on how to remain safe from internet threats, there is multiple tabs of useful information and ways to protect your data and pc.

The reality is the best way to prevent these issues is to treat every day on your computer like you would be going out. Keep your mind active and always read through links and downloads and scan them to ensure that you truly know what you are downloading. Even the most “legitimate” looking websites can simply be a copy of the true website made to specifically mirror all its details to trick you into downloading content that can maliciously affect you. You do not need an expensive antivirus subscription, Windows defender does its job well, and the best antivirus is remaining vigilant.