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Cyber Attacks and You: What you need to know

We’ve already covered some major cyber-crimes, along with some information on how these attacks are likely to impact on the internet as a whole. But what you might not be aware of is how they can affect you personally, and how your own computer’s security vulnerabilities could mean that you are inadvertently making them possible. In order to avoid detection, the perpetrators of attacks like this can use a variety of tricks that mask their tracks by having “slave” computers do the majority of the work for them. Let’s have a quick look at what you need to know.

The most common “cyber attack”, as the press is quick to call these incidents, is the Distributed Denial of Service, which boils down to using a number of willing or unwilling computers to send another computer so many connection requests at once that it crashes trying to deal with the load. These are generally directed at big businesses, and although they will usually only disable a site for around 15-20 minutes at a time, they are easy enough to repeat multiple times, which can add up to a big loss of business over the course of a day. This is unlikely to affect you if you are an individual, but business owners of all sizes, and anyone who maintains a personal website, may find themselves falling victim to such an attack depending on how online activist groups view their content or strategies.

If you’re looking to avoid the fallout from the DDoS attack, the simplest way is to enable some type of flood control. These systems are generally incorporated into website architecture on more common platforms, and can be negotiated with your software developers. Flood control places a limit on the number of requests which can be made on a site by the same IP address, or within certain time limits (or both). If powerful enough will be able to prevent a DDoS from occurring by cutting off the issue of the source. However, this approach, while the only really foolproof method of preventing this type of disruption, may result in complaints from regular users parameters are set too strictly, and many larger websites may see this as equally disruptive.

Individuals can help to prevent this type of attack from occurring altogether by depriving cyber-terrorists of the source of a greater part of the infrastructure required. Most large-scale DDoS attacks are carried out by means of an illegally created network of slave machines called a “botnet”. Botnets are generally created by illicitly tricking a computer into downloading and running software which allows the machine to be controlled remotely, diverting its processing power to nefarious ends. If you’ve discovered your machine is completing routine tasks at an irritating snail’s-crawl recently, you may be a victim. A number of simple precautionary steps can be taken to prevent this kind of intrusion and manipulation.

First, if you’re planning to upgrade your system in the near future, make a beeline for desktops or laptops which are designed with security architecture in mind. If you’re not in the mood to slap down a few hundred bucks for a new machine, make copies of all your important data, virus scan it, and reformat your hard drive, as this is the only surefire way to purge an infected system of software nasties. Once you’ve reinstalled anything, some simple spyware detection software and a robust antivirus system (both of which are easily available for free open source, or commercially from numerous security firms) will usually be enough to protect your computer from all but the most up to date exploits. It’ll only take five minutes, and it’ll keep your system running smoothly and prevent criminals from exploiting your vulnerabilities.

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