2015 is nearly here and that means it’s time for every blog on the internet to roundup 2014 with a list of the “Top [BLANK] Most [BLANK] [BLANK] of 2014”.
Today, we’re looking at the worst PC viruses that hit our computers in 2014. Fortunately, most of these viruses are months behind us and are only bad memories. But 2015 is just around the corner, and that means more viruses to worry about in the future.
CryptoLocker wreaked havoc on the world’s computers for much of the first half of 2014. It wasn’t isolated until June 2014, although it was first identified way back in September 2013.
In the months in between, security researchers around the world scrambled to figure out where this virus was coming from and what users could do to stop it.
The unfortunate answer was: nothing. If CryptoLocker infected your computer, then all your files would be immediately encrypted with a secret key. You had to pay a large amount of money (like $200 to $500 in Bitcoin) to obtain that key. If you didn’t pay within a week or two, your data would be deleted. If you uninstalled the software, your data would still be encrypted.
There were only three ways to get around CryptoLocker:
-Avoid getting it in the first place
-Delete all your encrypted data and hope you had a good back up
-Pay the ransom
CryptoLocker was smart and it even encrypted all hard drives connected to your computer. So if you backed up your data to a portable hard drive, that still wasn’t good enough to avoid CryptoLocker. Yikes.
Ultimately, the makers of CryptoLocker would end up making about $27 million in ransom money, with about 1.3% of infected computers obtaining a ransom.
CryptoLocker fizzled out halfway through 2014 as law enforcement officials shut down the botnet used for distribution. However, it only took a few weeks before a similar software, TorrentLocker, was up and running.
TorrentLocker first surfaced in September 2014 and used the same keystream for every infected computer as CryptoDefense – a ransomware software which had already been decrypted. As a result, decrypting TorrentLocker files was relatively easy.
Nevertheless, TorrentLocker had infected over 30,000 computers by November 2014. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of those computers were in Australia (9,000 infected users) and Turkey (11,700 infected users).
CryptoLocker 2.0 was a copycat virus to the original CryptoLocker. Apparently, the two programs aren’t related at all and were made by two separate groups.
In any case, CryptoLocker 2.0 began attacking users in the latter half of 2014. From August 2014 onward, it terrorized computers around the world.
This dramatically-named virus was actually a botnet toolkit which created malware. This malware would collect information about the PC user, then send that data to a remote server in order to steal identities and access bank accounts.
Zeus was particularly difficult to deal with because it multiples itself into different botnets. It’s actually been around since July 2007, which is when it was discovered stealing information from the United States Department of Transportation. Despite our best efforts over the last 7 years, we weren’t able to totally wipe out Zeus in 2014.
This scarily named virus was a Trojan Horse designed to infiltrate the Windows operating system.
It was first documented in late 2010 but seemed to become particularly common at the end of 2013 and start of 2014. Originally, the virus was an application called HDD Defragmenter – which seems like an innocent enough program to install.
That’s also why the virus is named “fakesysdef”: it stands for Fake System Defragmenter.
One of the scary parts about Fake System Defragmenter was that it actually seemed to help your PC. It scanned your computer for hardware failures related to system memory and hard drive functionality. Then, it reported that your computer was filled with errors and that users need to defrag their hard drives to improve system performance.
Finally, fakesysdef would ask for a payment in exchange for fixing the made-up issues. After payment was received, the issues would disappear and the PC would supposedly “speed up.”
The craziest part about this virus is that many people had no idea they had just been scammed: instead, they felt like they did something smart by fixing their computer and speeding it up. When really, they had just donated $30 to $40 to hackers.
All the viruses above have been fixed, patched, and repaired by Microsoft and major antivirus manufacturers. However, that doesn’t mean you’ve won the war: you’ve just won the battle of 2014. The war against antivirus never ends.
That means you need to be proactive about PC security in 2015. Install a good antivirus software (I currently use PC Cleaner Pro, the free version of Avast, and Microsoft Security Essentials, all of which do a good job of warning me when my PC is under attack.
If you follow basic precautions online and use good antivirus software, it’s very unlikely that you will encounter major virus threats in 2015. Good luck out there!