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Preventing Computer Worms December 7, 2013

Posted by kristinamensch in Security.
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In early November 1988 the first Internet worm was released collecting information about its host and propagating itself to other machines using an operating system flaw. The worm caused systems to become overrun with processes that they could not perform their duties and causing some to systems to completely fail. Written slightly over a month after the worm began, The Internet Worm Program: An Analysis outlines the events of that evening, the ensuing days, and the worm program itself.[1] The author states that ‘what we learn from this about securing our systems will help to determine if this is the only such incident we will ever need to analyze’. Unfortunately for the computing world, this was not the last worm that computer users have had to face. The last 25 years have brought exponential growth in the internet and in malicious programs that try to infect it.

A computer worm is a program ‘that can run by itself and propagate a fully working version of itself to other machines’. The self-replicating programs are still a problem for internet users today. Today’s computer worms still infect a host computer, replicate themselves, and send the new copies the contacts that are store in the newly infected user’s email program or put copies onto the local network the user is connected to. Many of these worm programs open a back door for other malicious code to be downloaded to the infected system.[2] Most worms are delivered to users through emailed links, and online software or content downloads. The prognosis may sound bleak, but there are a few simple things that users can do to limit their exposure to and risk from computer worms.[3]

  1. Enable automatic updates for your operating system: The company that creates and maintains your operating system software continuously updates the source code to fix bugs and patch newly discovered security holes. Keeping your operating system up to date will eliminate any currently known vulnerabilities.
  2. Install a reputable anti-virus program, turn on email scanning, and enable automatic updates: Much like the operating system the anti-virus software company is always improving their product, adding new virus and worm definitions, and making them available to their users.
  3. Use a firewall: Prevents unauthorized users and malicious code from gaining access to your computer system.
  4. DO NOT click any suspicious email links: Clicking email links infects many systems. Be on the lookout for suspicious emails – even emails from trusted contacts and businesses. It is always safest to manually type any links into the browser window directly. Also watch out for suspicious links in an instant message or social media message.
  5. Download software from TRUSTED sites: If you are unsure whether to trust an online program take the time to Google the program name and location in order to investigate the legitimacy and safety of the program.
  6. Browse the internet as a ‘restricted’ user: Browsing as a restricted user will place restrictions on the downloading and installation of software from the internet.

In the 25 years since the first internet worm was created and deployed the number of internet nodes and users has grown at an unbelievable rate. People are conducting much of their lives online and much of their personal information is stored on personal and mobile computing devices. With more information being stored and accessed via the internet these days it is to see why malicious computer software is still being developed and deployed. Computer users can take the few simple precautions outlined above to help secure their systems and information from computer worms.

Bibliography

[1] Spafford, Eugene H. “The Internet Worm Program: An Analysis.” Technical Report, Department of Computer Science, Perdue University, West Layfayette, 1988.

[2] Barwise, Mark. BBC – Webwise – What is an Internet Worm. September 10, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/webwise/guides/internet-worms (accessed December 1, 2013).

[3] Microsoft. How to Remove and Avoid Computer Viruses. 2013. http://www.microsoft.com/security/pc-security/antivirus.aspx (accessed December 1, 2013).

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