By Alyssa Pawluk
Even in our technology-driven world, not every problem that we have can be solved with a computer. These machines even have flaws of their own. Malware, software that is intended to damage computer systems, is a common problem among computers everywhere.
“About 11 percent of the 9,000,000 web pages brought on campus on a daily basis are infected,” Ken Schindler, chief technology officer at Youngstown State University and associate vice president of information technology services division services, said.
There are many types of malware that exist online. Adware, bots, bugs, rootkits, spyware, Trojan horses, viruses and worms are the most common types.
Schindler said that Ransomware presents the most trouble for computer users.
“Ransomware is a special variety of malware. It will encrypt everything on your hard drive, any active or running external hard drives, and any flash drive plugged into your computer. It then leaves you a note telling you how much it will cost you, usually in bitcoins to get your files decrypted,” Schindler said. “Imagine if you had a thesis due and it became encrypted the day before it was due.”
Timothy Norfolk, interim chair for the department of computer science at the University of Akron, said that Ransomware could disguise itself as a trusting software company.
“My wife, for example, has received three phone calls of people telling her that they were Microsoft and they needed remote access to the machine to fix it for her. People fall for that, and the other way is that people click on links in emails and disreputable websites that are malware links,” Norfolk said.
Norfolk added that there is not a sure fire way to get rid of this malware.
“This malware infects your computer, essentially giving permission for somebody to access your machine, and the perpetrators then contact you and ask for money in exchange for not deleting your data,” he said.
Schindler said that Ransomware appears on infected web pages and that ads on a web page are primarily how it is transmitted to a user’s computer.
The Information Technology Advisory Committee is a panel of professors at YSU that add value to the Information Technology Services division services by offering enterprise-level input on major strategic decisions and through coaching ITS on key business and technology leadership issues. It combats these issues for the university.
Schindler explained that phishing is another problem that arises with any kind of computer system.
“Phishing is strictly an email that tries to convince to you to enter your User ID and password or else your email will be shut down, or your credit cards will be locked or some other compelling reason,” he said. “All of this goes on all the time. Over 80 percent of all email is considered spam for one reason or another. This includes phishing emails.”
Schindler said that the ITS does catch and remove almost all of this type of malware.
At the beginning of the semester, YSU’s Board of Trustees approved a 180-day password change cycle that was required by a university policy. The ITS recommended this cycle.
Schindler said that this password change is a separate security issue from malware invasion. Universities everywhere are required to update passwords, and it is still important that students and faculty remain secure online.
“YSU was one of the last, if not the last, state universities in Ohio to implement mandatory password changes,” Schindler said. “Most universities change their passwords more often.”