Keeping safe from harm can be a pretty trying task online. There’s so much great stuff on the web, but by the same token it can be a minefield of phishing scams, spam, and malware for the uninitiated.
In the information security industry, we can be a little guilty of over-complicating things in our use of terminology. The chances are you’ll already have heard of Trojans in some news report or other, detailing a cyber attack. So in the interests of plain English, let’s take a look at one of the most common threats: the Trojan.
So is it the same as a worm? Or a virus? Well, not quite.
They’re all types of malware, or malicious programs, but unlike viruses and worms, Trojans don’t replicate. In the simplest terms, they are malicious programs disguised as harmless pieces of software – the term stemming from the classical tale from the Trojan war in which a gang of Greek soldiers hid inside a huge wooden horse, before leaping out once inside the city of Troy to wreak havoc on their enemies.
In the case of computers, a Trojan is a piece of malware that is clandestinely delivered to and installed on your computer via email or a malicious web page. Once there the malware can do all sorts of mischief.
What is a RAT?
Some of these Trojan Horse programs, known as Remote Access Trojans (RATs) can be designed to remotely take over a user’s machine – putting the hacker in complete control. Others may have different end goals in mind, such as stealing personal data, logging keystrokes, or even turning the victim’s computer into part of a botnet.
P2P and Social Media attacks
Unfortunately for us, this means that Trojan attacks are becoming increasingly widespread. There are toolkits available to buy online, such as the Blackhole Exploit Kit, that do all the hard work of creating and launching the malware for those bad guys with limited tech know-how. Most commonly, Trojans will be disguised as innocent looking attachments in unsolicited emails, or they could be hidden in previously hacked but legitimate websites, disguised as regular files on P2P sites or even lurking at the end of links on social networking sites.
How to steer clear of Trojan infection
Prevention is obviously the best approach, so never open an email attachment or click on a link from an unknown source. Similarly, even if a message on a social networking site or in an email or IM appears to have come from a friend, their account may have been hacked. So it’s always best to double check by messaging them back first before opening. Secondly, you should invest in comprehensive anti-malware software to block such threats.
Trend Micro’s cloud-based threat protection system the Smart Protection Network (SPN) will block any suspicious program before you have a chance of downloading it, based on its reputation, file signature or behavior. In fact, Trend Micro is already working with Facebook to scan and spot any bad links on the site via the SPN, bringing peace of mind to social networking users everywhere. The bad guys are certainly getting more determined, but we can protect our digital lives armed with the right tools and the right attitude.
I work for Trend Micro and the opinions expressed here are my own.