It seems like every week you hear of some sort of cyber attack on a business or government agency, but it shouldn’t really be news to us. These types of attacks are as old as the Internet itself.
Since the time of the earliest computer worms, like the Morris Worm in 1988, these little parasites have been infecting computers and networks around the world. But what are computer worms, and why should we pay attention to them?
What Are Computer Worms?
Computer worms are similar to real parasites because they can duplicate themselves across as many hosts as possible. Yet, they do it without causing much damage to the systems they are feeding off.
Hackers transmit these worms to your computer through software or operating system vulnerabilities. They usually arrive as attachments in email or instant messaging. They contain standalone software or files that do not have to attach themselves to any other software program to cause damage.
The goal of a computer worm is to replicate itself and spread those copies to other computers, and they do this without any human interaction. This is what makes them not only dangerous but popular among hackers.
Worms usually carry a “payload,” a piece of code that will make your computer vulnerable to other attacks. Without this payload, the life span of a worm is relatively short. This is because as soon as the worm deploys, it reveals the system weakness that allowed it to enter in the first place. Carrying and deploying a payload gives them another avenue into your system and network.
They typically take advantage of system vulnerabilities. That’s why systems that haven’t been recently updated are such common targets.
Some of the most destructive worms still exist today. Hackers simply build upon them to make them harder to detect. Like any form of malware, worms are constantly evolving, making them a threat worth protecting against.
Can Worms Ruin My Computer?
What happens if a worm infects your computer? Worms will not corrupt your files or break your computer. Instead, they slow down your computer by sucking up resources or Internet bandwidth.
Just because it won’t destroy your computer, that doesn’t mean it can’t be destructive in other ways. These invaders can modify and delete your files, steal data, and install backdoors. If they are carrying a payload, they can inject additional malicious software onto your computer and allow a hacker to control your computer and its system settings.
Another problem is they spread quickly. In fact, SQL Slammer spread so quickly, it was infecting thousands of vulnerable servers using SQL Server every minute. This is one of the fastest spreading worms, but it does prove that replication can occur rapidly.
How Can I Avoid Computer Worms?
Luckily, frequent software and operating system updates make worms less effective than they were when those updates were few and far between. However, you still need to keep your security updated to keep them out. Here are a few tips for keeping worms from burrowing their way into your network.
- Use a personal firewall. Without one, your computer system is completely exposed to an attack on the Internet. Public Wi-Fi makes this an even bigger problem.
- Be careful when you click on the links you find in emails and on social media. Only click on those you completely trust. Hackers are experts at making these files look legit.
- Have a good anti-malware program such as Kaspersky or Malwarebytes installed on your computer or use Windows Defender.
- Turn Autorun off when downloading files from the Internet.
- Update your system with any patches that your operating system vendor releases to protect against known worms and other possible security vulnerabilities.
- Keep your operating system and anti-virus up to date.
- Give up Windows XP and Windows 7 if you are still using them.
Have I Already Been Infected?
It’s always a good idea to keep any eye out for signs that your computer may already be infected by a computer worm. Some of the most common symptoms of infection include:
- Files suddenly missing or being changed
- Sluggish performance (can be entire system or just certain apps)
- Sudden spikes in CPU usage
- Unexplained hard drive usage (As worms replicate, they use more hard drive storage space.)
The sooner you notice the infection, the sooner you can stop it. Remember, the longer it’s on your system, the more damage it can do.
Worms may not be the most feared type of malware that hackers use, but they are definitely still an issue. Follow the best practices for security on your computer and network, and they shouldn’t be able to infiltrate. If instead, you are seeing the “Antimalware Service Executable” process slowing down your computer, you may want to continue letting it run in the background.