Malware Myths

GData has found that many people’s preconceptions about malware are wrong and are putting them at risk of malware infection. The vectors for viruses and trojans have significantly changed in the past couple of years and infections now mainly come from websites rather than emails and USB sticks. The growth of malware in the past five years has been phenomenal and since 2005, over 2 million malware threats have been identified.

GData surveyed nearly 16,000 web users in 11 countries regarding their views on internet threats. People are generally more knowledgeable now, with only 4% admitting to having no antivirus software on their computer, although 5% didn’t know. 48% of those questioned have free AV software and 41% have paid software. The survey is not entirely clear if it was Windows PCs only or any computer, including OS X and Linux.

GData identified 11 malware myths that can lead to a higher risk of infection. Here they are.

Myth 1: When my PC is infected, I will notice in one way or another (93%)
No, modern malware writers are smart and code their viruses and trojans to make sure that they work stealthily and unnoticed in the background.

Myth 2: Free AV software offers the same elements of security as paid for packages (83%)
Anyone who has bothered to compare the feature sets of free v. paid versions of security software from nearly any company will know that this isn’t true. Usually the free ones are missing features such as firewalls or anti-spam filters.

Myth 3: Most malware is spread through e-mail (54%)
As mail spam and antivirus filters have got better, malware in attachments has become rarer as it has become less effective. Consequently most spam / malware emails now only come with links to infected websites rather than payloads.

Myth 4: You can’t get infected just by loading an infected website (48%)
Sadly not true. Websites loaded with malware that take advantage of vulnerabilities in the browser and operating system can infect a PC even when the user is “just looking”.

Myth 5: Most malware is spread through downloads at peer2peer and torrent sites (48%)
Undoubtedly some malware is passed on via peer-to-peer but today websites are the prime source of infection.

Myth 6: It is more likely to encounter malware at a porn site that at a horseback riding site (37%)
Much as we might like this myth to be true, serious adult sites are professional and run to a high standard. The web site is key to their business and they make sure the sites are secured and up-to-date with patches. On the other hand, hobby websites are run by enthusiasts who are rarely IT experts and these websites are easily compromised by criminals who then upload malicious code to the site which subsequently infects visitors.

Myth 7: My firewall can protect my PC from drive-by-download attacks (26%)
Sadly, not true. Firewalls are a useful security component but because much malware is web-based and web traffic is generally allowed (because you couldn’t access websites if you didn’t), firewalls provide only limited protection against them.

Myth 8: I don’t visit risky sites, so I am safe from drive-by-downloads (13%)
This is much the same as Myth 6, but the point to take is that your trust in the website brand does not have a direct correlation to the likelihood of being infected. In the recent past, a couple of high-profile trusted sites have become vectors for malware without the owner’s knowledge.

Myth 9: If you don’t open an infected file, you can’t get infected (22%)
The emphasis in this myth is on the “you”. In a perfect world this might be true, but modern PCs and operating systems are so complex and do so much in the background that it’s possible for a malicious file to infect a PC regardless of what the user actually does.

Myth 10: Most malware is spread through USB sticks (13%)
In the past a large proportion of viruses and trojans would have been passed on using USB memory sticks and while they can still be a vector (Conficker!), now more malware is spread by websites.

Myth 11: Cyber criminals aren’t interested in the PC’s of consumers (8%)
As most people recognised, consumer PCs are definitely of interest to consumers, either to form part of a botnet or else to monitor for passwords for on-line services.

There is a natural assumption amongst Internet users that pornography sites are more dangerous than other leisure sites. This is a myth. Amateur hobby/leisure sites are often not professionally run like many pornography sites, making them much easier prey for hackers,” says Eddy Willems, G Data Security Evangelist. “In the past, malware was written by developers who wanted to show off their technical skills, meaning it was visible to infected users. Now cyber criminals design, sell and make use of malware that enables them to take control of PCs’ computing powers in such a way that users do not notice the infection. This covert approach not only puts users’ data at risk, but also allows cyber criminals to send spam e-mails and malware, and participate in DDoS attacks. Internet users must correct their misconceptions in order to stay safe online.

You can download the full report (.pdf) if you want more information on the survey itself and the myths.

So stay sharp out there. The bad guys are out to get you.