Tech Talk Tuesday – Trojans

It’s #TechTalkTuesday – where tech terms are defined, explained, and no longer a mystery.

Today’s TechTalkTuesday discusses Trojans.  

The term Trojan has its origins in stories from ancient Greece, where a large wooden horse was used to infiltrate and ultimately overthrow the city of Troy. Why did the people of Troy let this large wooden horse filled with soldiers through the gates of their city? Simply because they were led to believe that it was a gift, and harmless. 

In technical terms, Trojan software works in a similar way. It knocks at your door, looking to be a harmless piece of legitimate software. Once through your door, the Trojan emerges with malicious intent. You may hear it referred to as a Trojan virus or Trojan horse virus. This is somewhat misleading, as Trojans do not self-replicate like most computer viruses do. It is malware more than a virus. 

Once the Trojan has breached your system, it can allow cybercriminals access to your sensitive data, your financial accounts, and it can even enable backdoor access to secure business systems. 

The impact of Trojans 

Trojans can be incredibly stealthy. They are designed to bamboozle users into installing them. They then work silently behind the scenes to fulfill their mission. It may be too late by the time that you realize you’re the victim of a Trojan. 

There are some signs that you could keep an eye out for, each of which could point to your device having been compromised by Trojan malware. 

  • Strange programs show up in your task manager 
  • The taskbar changes or disappears entirely 
  • The desktop changes 
  • Decreased device performance, including system crashes giving you the blue screen of death 
  • An increase in spam emails 
  • An uptick in popups. Not simply ads but popups claiming to offer antivirus products or scans 
  • Being automatically redirected to websites when you didn’t click on anything to navigate to them 

Just how does a Trojan operate? 

There are several ways that a Trojan can infect a device. One of the first things that you should know is that a Trojan needs to be executed by someone in order to do its work. What this looks like could vary based upon the type of malware. 

  • The user falls for social engineering or phishing attacks and opens attachments or clicks on links that lead to a malicious website. 
  • The user clicks on a popup for what appears to be an antivirus solution claiming your device is infected with a virus. Also known as scareware, this often results in the user downloading and installing a nasty Trojan on their laptop or other device. 
  • The user installs an application or game from an untrustworthy website. This is quite common in the areas of the web where pirated software is shared freely. 
  • Cybercriminals exploit a known software vulnerability, such as one in the device operating system, and install a Trojan without the user being aware. 
  • Hackers set up fake Wi-Fi hotspots in public areas, such as in coffee shops. Users connect to the network thinking they are connecting to a legitimate Wi-Fi network. The cybercriminals exploit this connection and have complete access to the device. 

Protecting yourself against a Trojan 

If Trojans are sneaky, is it possible to protect yourself against them? The good news is that with a combination of good cybersecurity habits and a robust antivirus protection solution, you can help to keep Trojans at bay. 

  • Be aware of what phishing and spear-phishing threats look like. Don’t click on links, open attachments or run applications sent to you unless you know exactly who sent them and why they were sent. 
  • Take care not to download and install software from websites or sources that you cannot completely trust. If you’re on a work machine you should confirm with your IT department whether it’s safe to install software that you may want. 
  • Keep your devices updated. Don’t put off routine updates, as they do quite often contain security patches that can help to protect your device and data. 
  • Don’t click on popups that claim your device is infected and only they have the cure to fix it. This is a common tactic for Trojan cybercriminals to use. 
  • Routinely back up your data. While this can’t directly protect you from the damage of a Trojan, if a malware attack causes damage to your data or you need to reformat your device, you’ll not lose much. 
  • Use complex passwords for the accounts, services and apps that you use on your devices. Don’t use the same password across multiple accounts. 

Your antivirus software should be able to scan your system and detect the presence of any Trojan malware. Be sure to keep up with updates to your antivirus software. Cybercriminals are savvy and do their best to stay one step ahead of the rest of us. Your antivirus software will need to be routinely updated in order to keep up with the latest lurking malware.  

Do you have a suggestion for TechTalkTuesday? We’d love to hear from you!