Do you remember Agent Smith from “The Matrix?” These guys were pretty scary. They could move with blinding speed, possessed superhuman strength and reflexes, and, scariest of all, if you killed one, he could suddenly reincarnate as anyone… anyone else around you. There was no way to tell if the innocent grandmother or fruit vendor you were talking to would suddenly morph into an Agent and shoot you on the spot. And the same is true of all of those websites that you visit every day. What do I mean by that? It’s simple. I’ve had several clients say things like “I trust Facebook,” or “when I see an address that says ‘irs.gov,’ I tend to trust it.” Of course, it is natural to build trust based on reputation and repeated contact – that’s the way we humans work. If you go to Facebook every day, you’re probably more comfortable doing so than clicking a link to EvilBadGuy.com.
But what most people don’t realize is that Facebook, Apple, NBC, and any other website out there that you use could, without any warning, become an Agent and attack your computer.
The difference is that, once transformed, Agents were nice enough to overtly draw their guns and try to kill you. Most malware these days is much more insidious, and gives you little or no warning. Often, by the time you get a pop-up message or your anti-virus detects it, it’s too late.
So what to do? Make sure you desktop malware protection is current, and actively scanning for threats. Block all suspicious traffic at your firewall with an intrusion prevention system. Use a web proxy to filter out bad stuff, too. Don’t run with administrative rights on your PC for your own good. And most of all, limit Internet access on systems where you do anything important to the bare minimum required; if you don’t have a strong business need, don’t go there.
Update: Microsoft was apparently hacked by the same watering-hole attack.