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Cyber Security: Which are the main threats we need to be aware of?
While talking about cyber security seems like a natural thing to do nowadays, such as fastening your seat belt, we are not that much aware of all the threats we are supposed to face and why we have this need of protecting all of our devices.
First of all, let’s start by making a few clarifications: cyber security has become a well-known term in a relatively brief period of time. Computers and, most of all, first viruses were “born” almost at the same time: back in 1949 John Von Neumann (who “fathered” modern IT) supposed that in the near future there would have been machines that could act on their own and replicate.
What are viruses?
At the beginning every IT threat was defined as “virus” and to this day, everybody finds it difficult to define it, aside from the experts of this particular field, and aside from the academic environment.
Nowadays, the word “virus” became (wrongly) a synonym to malware, contraction to malicious software, in other words any IT program that is being used to bother normal pc operations, stealing sensitive info, accessing private IT systems, or spamming some undesired advertising (source: Wikipedia). Despite being improperly used (it can point to other types of “virus”, such as worm, trojan, dialer or spyware), a virus in computer science can be defined as a perfect analogy to those virus we all know coming from the biologic field, and, in general, it can damage both the software “hosting” it (by wasting resources in terms of RAM, CPU and space on the hard drive) AND the hardware (by overheating or blocking the cooling system).
Classification of the IT Viruses
IT viruses can be divided in distinct categories depending on:
- The environment within which they were developed (physical supports);
- The algorithm that “rules” them;
- The different type of damages they cause.
The word “malware” represents a wide range of software created to damage a device or a user. As we already said, this definition can refer to different IT entities such as viruses, worms, trojan horses, ransomware, bot, spyware, adware and so on.
Some types of malware
Just like biological viruses, malware changed over the years adapting to different environments they “meet” or adapting to defences that were set by attacked entities. So, we can divide malware in distinct categories:
- Virus: it’s a malware that needs another software in order to work and replicate itself. It runs through a copy made endless times inside other programs so that it could be executed every time the program is executed, and it can be spread through infected files.
- Worm: its name makes us understand its nature: it is a software that can provide for itself and spread even without infecting another program. Worms modify the operating system of the host machine, in order to be executed automatically when starting the pc and to spread through the net just to consume resources of the host machine and to slow down its functioning.
- Trojan horse: this malware main feature is its capability to annoy while surfing the net: it can make a pop up appear, it can delete some files from the data storage, it can steal info and it can favour the spreading of new viruses, worms or other malwares. Just like Ulysses’ Trojan Horse, this malware can create an illegal entrance inside an IT system, while disguising itself as something else, since it can’t reproduce itself and it has to be the user (just like Ulysses) the one to download and install it.
- Adware: Adware aren’t dangerous malwares, they’re just extremely annoying. Those are advertising malwares, usually linked to free version of paid software, they show the user some advertising while surfing the net or while using the same free program. Adware may become dangerous when linked to Spywares that allow to track down the online habits of the users and they send them to remote servers.
- Spyware: As we already said, those malwares steal information from an IT system where they are installed, so they can be sent that info to some central servers within with they are classified and then used to do no matter what.
- Backdoor: The backdoor, just like the trojan, creates gaps in a pc defence system and it allows a non-authorized access to the machine resources on which they are executed
- Ransomware: it’s malware’s latest evolution. Ransomwares represented one of the worst cyber threats of 2014 e they rapidly started to spread. It’s a malware that limits the access to the infected device, requesting a ransom that has to be paid, in order to remove the restriction.
- Bot: Bot is Robot contraction and it stands for an automatized process that interacts with the Net. They’re not necessarily a threat, for example web crawlers are extremely useful.
- Rootkit: Those malwares are not a threat in themselves, but they were created to hide, either to the user and to the antivirus, the existence of other files or programs. That’s how other viruses, such as trojan horses and worms can damage everything smoothly for such a long time before we are to able to track them down.
- Keylogger: They are malicious programs that are able to record everything that a user types on his/her keyboard (or copy and paste), making it really easy to steal his/her passwords or other sensitive info.
Brief History of IT viruses
Creeper is believed to be the first known virus of history; it came into view for the first time back in 1970 in the ARPAnet sending a message on the working devices’ screens.
For the first “Mass” virus to come into view, we need to wait till Brain A, which was developed in 1986 by two Pakistani brothers that wanted to “punish” tourists who were buying bootlegged software.
The first Italian-developed virus was developed, almost-certainly, by some Turin’s Politecnico students for research purposes, and it was named Ping-Pong. It simply made a smiley face appear on the screen.
Successively, AIDS was developed, back in 1989; it was a malware very similar to modern ransomware and, from then on, it had an updated version every year:
- 1992 - Michelangelo,
- 1995 - Concept,
- 1999 - Happy 99 (it can be defined as the first malware).
- 2000 - Melissa e Loveletter,
- 2003 – It was the first year in which a mobile virus was launched.
- 2006- Stuxnet is a virus, which was created and spread by the US Government (throughout the Olympic Games, promoted by Bush back in 2006, and it consists of a wave of cyber attacks towards Iran) and it can be considered as a breakthrough in the malware history, because it was able to affect not only Windows environment, but also some automation systems.
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