Gadgets such as tablets, mobile phones and computers are increasingly at risk of attack from malicious “bot” viruses.
Statistic would seem that the threat is growing. In 2016 there were 6.7 million more bot infections in the UK and Europe than in the previous year.
And those bots had an average lifespan of 51 days as opposed to eight days the previous year.
What is a bot?
Bots, known as “web robots”, are some of the most important tools in a cyber criminal’s arsenal. At its simplest, a bot is an application that performs automated tasks like searching online or telling you the weather. At their most complex they can constitute artificial intelligence such as Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana.
But these are not the bots you need to watch out for. Malicious bots, or malware, are a kind of virus that allows criminals to covertly take control of an affected computer, tablet or smartphone. These bots can lie dormant for weeks or months waiting to strike.
What do bots actually do?
Derby may be full of bots but this does not mean they are being controlled from the city. An infected device in Derby could take part in an attack in the US while being controlled by a cybercriminal in Europe.
When a cybercriminal has control over an army of those devices (a “botnet”) they can use them together to do certain things. They can shut down entire websites like Facebook using a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack, spread spam and steal data.
How can you protect yourself?
Bots may be complex but there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself – thankfully none of which require an in-depth knowledge of programming.
Know the warning signs. A bot can cause your device to slow down, display mysterious messages or crash for no apparent reason. You should run a full diagnostic if any of these things happen. A diagnostic is a program which locates issues in a device’s hardware. Every device will have an easily accessible option to run a diagnostic – search online to find out how.
Update your device. Never ignore system updates. Often they include tweaks meant to stop new and dangerous bots.
Keep your device secure. Install a robust security software (with antivirus and firewalls) to keep your device safe, like Symantec, Kaspersky or Norton.
Never, never open or click on files sent to you by email or iMessage unless you trust the source. Be especially careful if you receive emails with Microsoft Word attachments that ask you to “enable macros”.
Use long, complex passwords with lots of numbers and symbols. While this might seem obvious, it is your first line of defence. Also, never use the same password for multiple services.
Finally, always log out once you’ve finished your session on Facebook, online banking or your email.