COLUMBIANA - It's taught as soon as children are old enough to understand: "Don't give your information to strangers!" But what about the strangers you can't see?
What about the strangers who can access your computer and hold it hostage until you give in to their demands?
Malware, spyware and computer viruses are well-known side-effects of the Internet, but their forms are changing almost as rapidly as the airwaves carrying them. Some are created, multiplied through the cyber-universe and then disappear as rapidly as they arrived. Others are created and remain for years. They may have the same objective but evolve with time as to how to carry out that objective.
Todd Alexander, vice president and director of technology for Newbold Technologies, said that just last week a new malicious software was created that infected cell phone users-including Apple iPhone users-in Australia and New Zealand.
Similar to the software known as CryptoLocker that attacked personal computer Microsoft Windows users, the Oleg Pliss ransomware locked users out of their iPhones or iPad devices and demanded they pay a certain amount of money to have them unlocked.
It is the first time cell phones have been infected, Alexander said, and cautioned it could be the dawn of a new era of hacking that could lead to infiltration of home intelligence systems, which are home security programs operated through a tablet.
He gave the warnings to a group of business owners during the Columbiana Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast Friday.
"I am not here to scare you," he began, but what followed was enough to remind Internet users that no matter how safe a connection may be, there is always room for a loophole.
Smartphone users should change their iCloud login and password to avoid becoming an Oleg Pliss victim, he said. In fact, password changes should be done routinely, he warned.
The CrytopLocker ransomware, known as the Trojan Horse, has been around since October of 2013 and has the ability to take a screen shot to capture computer users' login name and passwords for personal accounts, he added.
"Trojan Horse is a piece of spyware that can be not very powerful or extremely bad. It attaches itself to a program on your system," he said.
He went on to say cyber crime is not necessarily as prevalent in smaller towns than big cities, but is becoming more common.
Signs your computer may have been hit are "annoying" display messages and erased files, or e-mails sent from your personal account that you did not actually send. Some viruses can spread with or without human interaction.
For example, the more common viruses are the ones that occur after a user opens an e-mail attachment believing it is safe but it is a virus. That virus then has access to their personal information, such as contacts in their address book. Messages from their personal account are then sent to the top 50 people listed.
"There are some nasty viruses going around," he said. "If you have an attachment on an e-mail, do not click unless you know what it is."
Never open attachments that end in .zip or .ex, he added.
More serious viruses, or worms, are those that affect a large number of people, like the one targeted at the White House after Sept. 11, 2001 and the one that resulted in the cancellation of several Delta flights, also in the early 2000s, he said.
Avoiding viruses, malware, spyware, or worms boils down to being alert, and assuming not everything on the Internet is safe.
"Question everything," he said.
Computer users should always have an active firewall, run credible anti-virus and anti-spyware programs, install Microsoft updates, secure routers and back up data, he added.