NCSAM Week 4: Malware and Phishing


As technology advances, the impact of cybercrime is becoming more costly and frequent. Incidents ensue through every day ‘phishing’ emails masked behind trusted sources, in infected websites that unknowingly capture personal information when entered, and as persuasive links that lock files until a ransom is paid. While online threats are constantly evolving, many cyber criminals use variations of the same methods with cyber-attacks. Specifics of these attacks may differ, but the nature of the attacks stay the same. Cyber criminals take advantage of a user’s lack of technical expertise and inherent trusting natures. By understanding these common threats and risks, we can all take steps to protect ourselves online.

Below are two of the most common types of cyber threats:

Malware is a general term to describe malicious code or software, and includes viruses, worms, trojan horses, ransomware, and spyware to name a few. Malware can disrupt your computer’s operations and destroy files or run quietly in the background, tracking what you type or what sites you visit, and sending this information from your computer to cyber criminals.

In the case of ransomware, the malicious code locks your computer or encrypts certain files on your computer and threatens to delete files or keep your computer locked until you pay a monetary fine. Even after paying this “ransom,” it is not guaranteed that your files will be freed from its captors.

Ransomware victims have paid more than $25 million in ransoms over the last two years in order to unlock their computer disks and get their data back, according to a 2017 study by researchers at Google, Chainalysis, UC San Diego, and the NYU Tandon School of Engineering View source.

What you can do to protect yourself:

  • Think before you click. Malware can spread to your computer through malicious links and attachments. Only click links or open attachments from legitimate, reputable sources. When in doubt, delete or ignore the message. Keep your anti-virus software updated. New viruses are continually being written and deployed. Updating your anti-virus software helps you fight against the latest malware.
  • Back up your files. Sending copies of your files to a separate location helps ensure your data will be available to you in case of disk corruption or computer infection.

Malware/phishing example:

This example around the holidays had an attachment contained in the email that was not a pdf but instead a computer virus.

From: FedEx Manager,

Dear. Unfortunately, we failed to deliver the postal package you have sent on the 17th of December in time because the recipient’s address is erroneous.

Please print out the invoice copy attached and collect the package at our office.

Phishing is an attempt by an individual or group to solicit personal information from unsuspecting users by employing social engineering techniques, or tricking them into thinking that the activity is legitimate or necessary. Phishing emails are crafted to appear as if they have been sent from a legitimate organization or from someone the person actually knows. These emails often entice users to click on a link that takes the user to a fraudulent (or “spoofed”) website that appears to be legitimate. The user may be asked to provide personal information, such as account usernames and passwords. Additionally, these fraudulent websites may contain malicious code. Attackers sometimes take advantage of major events –such as a natural disaster, sporting event, etc. –and pretend to be legitimate charities or retailers to entice users.

What you can do to protect yourself

  • Be wary of unsolicited emails asking for personal information. Do not provide personal information or internal company information unless you have verified that the sender is legitimate. University/College IT staff will never ask you for your password.
  • Be wary of hyperlinks: Avoid clicking on hyperlinks in emails; type the URL directly into the address bar instead. If you choose to click on a link, ensure it is authentic before clicking on it. You can check a hyperlinked word or URL by hovering the cursor over it to reveal the full address.
  • Report suspicious emails. Forward the email to your IT department.

Phishing Example snippets:

  • “We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account is not compromised, please click the link below and confirm your identity.”
  • “During our regular verification of accounts, we couldn’t verify your information. Please click here to update and verify your information.”

Each week in October we will provide helpful tips and information to promote cybersecurity in your professional and personal lives. Please let us know if you have any questions and as always…

If you’re not sure it’s safe to click, download or install, please contact us or your local IT unit!  Call 970-491-5037 or email us at

Leave a Comment