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A malware at Christmas

By Anastasia Stefanidou, Associate Manager — Branded Content Strategy, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

For many of us, the holiday season is the best time of the year. Celebrations, spending time with family and friends, giving and receiving presents, a week off work — what’s not to love? There are always a few Ebenezer Scrooges out there who say “Bah humbug” to the festive spirit, but we love it. So the last thing we want to do in the run-up to the holidays is spread doom and gloom, but you need to be aware that while the rest of us are enjoying a great time, cybercriminals are exploiting the season.

A brief history of malware at Christmas

You probably associate Christmas more with crackers than hackers, but cybercriminals are especially active this time of year. The holiday season inspires malware developers to hone their social engineering skills, since most people are expecting brief seasonal messages from long-lost friends or distant business contacts and are thus more susceptible to attack.

The first holiday malware hit victims in 1987. Known as the Christmas Tree, this virus displayed a stylized tree before forwarding itself to your contacts by email. A few years later, the same virus was responsible for the closure of IBM’s 350,000-terminal network.

And this was just the start —some new kind of virus has hit almost every Christmas since. One of the worst in recent memory was MerryX, which arrived in inboxes around the world during the 2014 holiday season. While an animation of Santa Claus delivering gifts merrily fills the screen, a far less welcome present is delivered: A piece of malware hiding behind the name “SQLServer.exe.” Once installed on PCs running Windows, the malwares transmit information gleaned from the computer to a remote website and attempts to install additional malware.

While you need to be on guard against malware all year round, we tend to be more vulnerable over the holidays. Phishing attacks, fraudulent websites that want your credit card details, Christmas spam with dodgy links and virus-infested email purporting to be delivery information are just some of the many holiday season scams you need to look out for.

Keeping your Computers Safe over Christmas

There are several things you can do to stay secure over the festive season:

  • Always be aware. Prevention is best, so constantly keep security in mind.
  • Use secure passwords on home and office networks and routers.
  • Never access or send personal information on unsecured public networks.
  • Be careful about what you post on social media — don’t reveal personal details.
  • Keep unique and secure passwords for all your accounts.
  • Invest in some good anti-virus software (it’s not as expensive as you may think).
  • Be aware of phishing scams by phone, text and email.

Find out more on cybersecurity

If you would like to find more on how to keep your data safe and secure, check out this guide by John Webb, Experian.