By Pranav Kulkarni

MSc Animal Science...

A famous American physicist and philosopher Michio Kaku once said that “Science is a double-edged sword”. On one hand, it obliterates all the ills of the world by making it a comfortable place to live in and on the other it wreaks havoc when it is placed in hands of twisted minds. The debate of science and technology, its advantages, disadvantages, has been going on for ages, probably, even before these two terms were coined.

Similarly, one of the most progressive branch of science, computer science, has its benefits and deficits. It created convenience and swiftness wherever it was applied. From transport, communication to banking and commerce, computers have applications everywhere. In 21st century we can assume that most of the human processes will cease to function if we remove computers from the picture. It has provided us with such comfort and ease that there is nothing else in this world except food, clothing, and shelter that we rely on more.

But the magic of computers come with a great problem. Our dependence on it leaves us vulnerable to many threats that previously did not exist. There is no end to what can happen if we are under cyberattack! People from cyber security industry are working day and night to protect mankind from this problem but somehow the dark forces are always one step ahead.

E-kidnapped blogI decided to address this topic considering the latest worldwide threat to cyber security and personal information posed by a mysterious software (malware) called as ransomware. This particularly naughty program targets computer servers of corporate institutions that store crucial data lays siege to all its activities. Unless, a certain amount of money is paid (ransom), it will not back out. Essentially, your beloved family member, the computer, is e-kidnapped!

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So, to protect us from these programs, many institutions have laid guidelines for “dos and don’ts”. But is that enough, I hardly think so. We need to know more about this particular area before we are equipped to shield ourselves. So, I decided to compile a list of such dark programs that threaten us in today’s world, just to give a glimpse in the world of cyber-warfare. Mind you, I am not a computer expert. So, the list I create might be just a small blot in the actual picture, but at least, it is something to go on.

What is a virus?

Resembling a biological virus, this particular program is coded so that it is embedded (hidden) in a seemingly harmless program/ code that when injected into your computer replicates itself (spreads). Depending on its type (yes! It comes in different varieties, just like the biological virus), its target can be anything from making your system slow to data deletion, corruption, etc. More detailed information can be found on this link.

What is a worm?

A worm, quite similar to nematodes/ worms in biology, are somewhat like viruses. The only difference that I can see is that they do not need a “host” program to replicate. It is quite independent in nature. It can “burrow” or “tunnel” itself in crucial programs on computers and create various assortments of problems. It can spread through emails, unsecure ports of network, etc. More detailed information can be found on this link.

What is a trojan?

Trojan programs/ trojan horses got their name from the famous mythological tale of Troy and its fall. Similar to the story, these programs look very harmless and the user essentially “invites” them in their system by executing them. Once inside, these programs do not replicate like viruses or worms but opens the “backdoor” of the infected computer to external control. They can invade any system files once they are inside. More detailed information can be found on this link.

What is a malware?

It is a vague term used to address any malicious program ranging from viruses to spywares. It has been interchangeably used for any potentially threatening software.

What is a spyware?

It is program that plays the “cyber spy”. Once inside a system, it quietly sends information from your computer to the person who coded it. This includes anything from stored personal data to all the keystrokes from your keyboard. Very handy tool for hackers who love to loot their targets by stealing credit card information and other methods.

What is a Scareware?

It is a program that looks harmless but once executed gives out various security warnings and messages that positively threaten you to do something or your system will come crashing down. On its own, it is not equipped to carry out its threat but can be sent in combination with other malwares.

What is a ransomware?

As I described previously, it locks your computer and does not unlock it until you pay something to the perpetrator of crime. It has gained great popularity in the recent years.

What is an adware?

As I write this article, I suspect my system is under attack by this particular genre of programs (I am trying to resolve the situation). It is one of the most benign malwares which displays advertisements according to the social history that it collects and predicts the users’ preferences. It can be a part of a free software and the user may even be asked permission to install this program before it starts its work. It loses its innocence, when used in combination with other viruses which can create great discomfort for the user. One special case of it is “tracking cookies” which send location of the system to the interested parties.

What is a DDoS attack?

DDoS stands for Distributed Denial of Service. This particular form of remote attack on system results in complete black out of the system that it targets. In the late 90s, it was the most famous method of completely destroying enemy servers. Its M. O. involves overloading the system by some worthless data and rendering it “paralysed”.

What is a SQL injection?

It is an “injection” of malicious SQL-based query which targets the user computer with just one aim to collect, destroy, corrupt information from database of applications. Very efficient to steal passwords, credit card data, webcam data, etc.

What is Phishing?

Just as the name sounds, this program contains very few lines of code that “fish” for information from user computer.

What is a Sniffer?

This dog like program “sniffs” for flow of information on a network. It is usually the first line of attack for hackers that are targeting a system. There are other programs in this category like AirSnort, etc. More detailed information can be found on this link.

What is a Brute Force Attack?

It is an old relic from computer history that is still very much functional. It does the most logical thing, looks for passwords and data by “trial and error” method. It is a looping algorithm that is only terminated when it finds what it is looking for. It may be time consuming but very efficient to crack weak encryptions.

Considering this un-exhausting list of “diseases” that makes your computer sick. I must say that the threat of cyber-attack is real and overwhelming. The best we can do is keep our antivirus softwares up to date and be informed about the new developments.

By Pranav Kulkarni

MSc Animal Science

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