indicatorCybersecurity and Fraud Protection

Malware 101: Why you need to protect your business

By ATB Financial 2 September 2020 3 min read

Cyber attacks from just one type of malware cost Canadian businesses a collective $2.3 billion every year, according to a 2020 report by cyber security consultancy Emsisoft. Malware, or harmful software programs, can infiltrate your network, hijack your systems and steal your identity, yet many businesses aren’t fully aware of what it is or how to combat it.

The more concerning issue is that no matter the size of your enterprise, you’re at risk of falling victim to this insidious combination of computer virus and worm. What’s worse is malware can remain in your network for months—even years—stealing highly sensitive information, damaging data and spying on your business before being detected.


How does malware work?


“The first line of defense is understanding what malware is and how it works,” says Aisha Kitchlew, ATB senior manager, fraud investigations and cyber crime.

As noted above, malware is malicious software written to damage devices, networks or servers. Malware can be downloaded by clicking on links within phishing emails, visiting compromised websites, downloading pirated software, installing malicious apps or using infected USB flash drives.

Here’s how the most common malware work:

  • Trojan: Disguises itself as a desirable code
  • Ransomware: Infects a device until a ransom is paid
  • Spyware: Collects data and sends it to a fraud actor remotely
  • Adware: Tracks a user’s surfing activity to determine which ads to serve them Although adware is similar to spyware, it does not install any software on a user’s computer, nor does it capture keystrokes.
  • Keylogger: Tracks everything a computer user types
  • Worms: Self-replicate and spread to other systems using your address book


Malware flags


The technology around malware is becoming increasingly sophisticated. However, there are telltale signs to should raise red flags—and call for action:

  • Your computer system becomes very slow
  • Pop-up ads start appearing more often than usual
  • Your browser starts being redirected to unfamiliar websites
  • An unknown app sends alarming warnings, trying to get you to install fake anti-virus software on your systems
  • You receive an increase in spam emails or people indicating they’ve received suspect emails from your account
  • Anomalies when logging onto internet banking, such as a “please wait” notice after entering your credentials.


Be cyber defensive


“As a security best practice, always keep your devices up to date with all of the latest software,” notes Kitchlew. “Applying the latest patches ensures devices are protected against the latest detected vulnerabilities and threats.”
Make sure your devices are encrypted. When people are working from home, there’s a greater chance their device may be lost or stolen. Ensure passwords are set and proper password hygiene is maintained.

  • Use VPN—virtual private network—not public. And, do not share WiFi while working remotely. If a user is using a VPN, the connection is sent back to the office and as such, is secure.
  • Ensure email protection is up to date. Employees should be able to easily report any unusual emails or influx of spam emails in their inboxes.
  • Enforce the use of multifactor authentication. ATB, as well as most other financial institutions, offer enhanced security features through two-factor authentication.
  • Invest in a reputable fraud solution and ensure that scheduled updates are completed in a timely fashion.
  • Invest in your people. Fraud awareness and education is the key to increasing your security level.
  • Malware can be spread through infected flash drives, external hard drives and even smartphones. Ban the use of external drives, USB and flash drives.


Immediate steps if you think your laptop/mobile/system is infected


  1. Contact your financial institution immediately: “The sooner your financial institution is aware of the situation, the more efficiently they can support you. At ATB, you can contact your director, relationship manager or regular contact,” says Kitchelew.
  2. Take action: Use a reputable IT firm to scan your devices and ensure any malware is identified and promptly quarantined for removal. You’ll need to reset all impacted credentials and passwords as well (for example, login passwords for online banking and email accounts).
  3. Report: In addition to your financial institution, consider reporting to:
    • Your local law enforcement agency to provide any details you know of the incident.
    • The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), which collects information about fraud incidents across Canada. Visit the CAFC website to learn about any next steps you should take.
  4. Educate: “The best defense against a fraud incident is education—understanding and knowing what you’re up against will allow you to consider what controls are best suited for your business,” Kitchlew says.

It takes awareness, commitment and a team effort to defend your business from malware and cyber criminals. With the right education, awareness and documented protocols for addressing an attack, you can operate with confidence, and focus on your business.

Protect your business from cyber threats

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