The internet is still a dangerous place

Nick FitzGerald, Senior Research Fellow, ESET. By Ng Chong Seng

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Nick FitzGerald, Senior Research Fellow, ESET. By Ng Chong Seng.

If you want a really, really secure computer, you’ve (got) to lock it up.
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What are some dangers of the internet that you see today?

The biggest threat is still malware, which inflicts harm in so many different ways. And of course, cybercrimes like identity theft, which unfortunately is something consumers don’t have a lot of control over. For example, the information that you give when you sign up on a website; you’ve no control how well the company will take care of that data. Even for countries that have internet laws, there are difficulties enforcing them outside of their borders.

Cybercriminals are getting smarter each day. Did anything catch your eye recently?

Ransomware is getting popular. Something that we think will be interesting is the Jigsaw ransomware on Windows. Like other ransomware it locks up or encrypts your files until you pay up, but the difference is the Jigsaw authors are much more aggressive. For example, Jigsaw will randomly delete a file if you don’t pay up in the first hour, and this number scales up every hour. And if Jigsaw detects you’ve restarted the PC to stop it, it’ll delete 1,000 files. We assume the Jigsaw creators are doing this because they think victims are more likely to pay up when they are put under increasing stress.

With so many new malware created each day, can security companies actually keep up?

I can’t speak for other companies, but I believe ESET can. Take ransomware for example, I’m confident our products are able to detect most of the new variants and block them before they get a chance to inflict any damage. One problem that we see is some users turning their internet security software’s advanced features off, features that are crucial for detecting these malicious software quickly. So a properly configured system is important, too.

Do you suppose it’s because many people still believe that antivirus software will make their PC run slower?

I’ve heard of such concerns. But for ESET’s products, I’m confident most of our advanced features have minimal impact on system performance. The reason we allow users to turn certain features off is because some of them have a higher chance of producing false positives. For advanced users who know what they’re doing, these toggles allow them to fix that quickly. Instead of turning off advanced features forever in the hope to improve performance, users can turn on Gamer mode to temporarily hold off the more resource-intensive tasks. The flipside to that is this may present an opportunity for malware that’s lurking in the background to strike.

Besides installing security software and applying good judgement when on the internet, what other advice do you have for our readers?

It’s good to regularly back up your data, preferably to an offline storage location. You can use backup software with a USB storage device, a network-attached storage device, or even cloud storage, but make sure you really disconnect them once you’ve done the backup. That’s because the list of file types and file extensions that malware are targeting is also getting longer each day.