In Homer’s Iliad, the Greeks won the Trojan War by hiding in a large, hollowed-out wooden horse. They crept out at night and took over the fortified city of Troy. In today’s computer world, Trojan horses are no myth—they’re a grim reality for every computer user. A virus can be placed on or downloaded to your PC any time without your knowledge. These downloads are called Trojan horses.
The Trojan Horse of the Digital Age
A Trojan horse is a destructive program that masquerades as a benign application or upgrade. Most Trojans are delivered via emails, online services, and downloads, such as free games, applications, movies, and greeting cards. Many of us don’t realize how vulnerable we are.
How Trojans Wreak Havoc
Trojans vary in the nefarious acts they perform once inside a machine. They can initiate harmless pranks that display a “cute,” obscene, or political message. They can steal your passwords or personal financial information and relay them to an identity thief via the Internet. They can even become “logic bombs” that erase all your data and try to damage hardware.
Once inside your computer’s operating system, Trojans can track keystrokes; this allows usernames and passwords to be collected and sent from your system without your knowledge. And, if you think you don’t have anything valuable on your machine, think again. Most personal data is now stored on our computers, including full names and addresses, credit card and financial information, Social Security numbers, personal photos and letters, and more. This can be enough for someone to steal your identity or impersonate you.
Experts warn that one of the areas of increasing risk is malicious files, masquerading as legitimate downloads, being posted on the Internet. Adult newsgroups are particularly dangerous, since many users believe that the files they are downloading are simply .jpeg or .mpeg files, but are actually are remote-access Trojan horses that provide access to your PC.
How to Spot Trojan Horses Before They Get In
First, beware of “executable” file attachments, which contain extensions such as .exe, .vbs, and .bat. Some Trojans have multiple extensions, such as “LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.vbs.” When this occurs, pay close attention to the extension at the end—it’s the only one that counts.
Take proactive protective measures, including:
- Set up and maintain firewall security. Install a firewall like the one included in McAfee® Internet Security that scans both inbound and outbound communications.
- Subscribe to an anti-virus software service. Hundreds of viruses are discovered each month, so you need to be continuously protected. With a McAfee product, you download the software only once, and, from that point on, you receive continuously updated protection via the Internet at no extra charge.
- Always be certain of both the source and content of every file you download. In other words, be sure that you trust the person, company, or file server that created or sent you the file. To put it simply, don’t accept candy from strangers.
- Even if a file comes from a friend, make certain it is innocuous before opening it. Many Trojans can automatically send themselves to everyone in your email address book.
- Beware of hidden file extensions. By default, Windows®, hides the last extension of a file, so “susie.jpg” might actually be “susie.jpg.exe”—an executable Trojan. To reduce your chances of being tricked, “unhide” those pesky extensions.
- Back up your files regularly. If a virus destroys your files, at least you can recover them from back-ups.
- Disconnect your modem and turn off your computer. Always-on isn’t always better.
You May Already Be at Risk
You may have already downloaded a Trojan horse without knowing it. A fast and easy way to determine this is to run a complete scan with your anti-virus protection. For always-active, always-updating security protection that includes the detection and elimination of viruses, worms, and Trojan horses, McAfee Internet Security Suite is an excellent solution. Not only does it give you a powerful and easy way to protect against the widest range of threats, it also presents you with accurate, real-time measurements of your “security index.” For more information, visit http://us.mcafee.com.