The spread of malware has at times appeared to be nearly unstoppable. Every day, cybercriminals are developing new strains of malicious programs to counter existing network defenses. In fact, some estimates have put the average number of threats that emerge each day at 74,000. All told, there are approximately 125 million unique strains of malware lurking in cyberspace.
The threat of cybercrime looms large in the United States, where institutions ranging from hospitals to government agencies have experienced significant data breaches. Still, many citizens have continued on with a sense of false security, failing to properly prepare their systems to protect against cyberattacks. A recent study suggested that the refusal or inability to invest in network defenses has adversely affected the state of cybersecurity in the U.S. Last year, a reported 58.2 million Americans had their home PC systems infected by at least one malware program. That figure does not take into account breaches reported at the corporate level.
Phishing attacks impersonate legitimate companies
One of the most prevalent methods of infection identified was the use of phishing techniques, with 9.2 millions Americans being victimized by these schemes. In many instances, hackers displayed a false website that copied another belonging to a well-known company and tricked users into exposing sensitive information.
Reflections provided by the victims of malware attacks uncovered some alarming trends. For instance, 17 percent of respondents said they believed they had the technical knowledge needed to verify an infection without any additional assistance. Meanwhile, 15 percent admitted they relied on another person to identify malicious programs.
Americans rely too much on antivirus
However, perhaps the most worrisome finding was the 62 percent of those surveyed who said that they had relied on their antivirus software to prevent infections and remove any malware that was present on their system. As helpful as antivirus software can be, these programs are not guaranteed to identify every strain of malware in existence. Considering the number of zero day viruses that are constantly being released, it would be impossible for any antivirus software to guard against all potential threats.
The study's researchers suggested that users – especially those who access their files remotely – should implement stronger cybersecurity practices with a more expansive reach. Antivirus is a good start to a network defense plan, but in order to prevent zero day viruses that may slip by its scanners from launching on their system, users should deploy application control tools. System restore software should also be used by individuals who remotely access files so all traces of their information can be removed from public or unsecured computers.