The cause of the massive Target data breach is linked to software malware. Part of the problem with preventing an attack is understanding what malware is and why it's a threat to your cybersecurity.
Malware is short for malicious software. It's designed specifically to cause harm to computer systems. While the Target breach was introduced through malware at the cash register, there are other areas, some that people use everyday, that can also be vulnerable to attack.
Malware has been on a lot of people's minds in the wake of the Target data breach. But as a cyber-security instructor at Dakota State University, it's something Josh Pauli has been following for years.
"Malware has been around for a long time and kind of generalized to infect as many people as it can. So malware creators will kind of survey the landscape and say, 'Wow, a lot of people are running Windows. Let's write up a piece of malware that can really wreak havoc on those systems,'" Pauli said.
Target's CEO says the malware was on a credit card. When it was swiped, the virus was installed on every register in the company's system. Pauli says the person behind the breach likely had a lot of resources.
"Somebody had the interest, the ability, the time, the funding to put all the moving pieces together. Do the research on the Target system, develop a piece of malware, develop an exploit that would cause damage to their system and they hit a homerun unfortunately," Pauli said.
The same thing could happen on a much smaller scale and affect your personal computer. When cleaning out infected computers, DSU sophomore Michael Pettit has noticed that malware frequently comes from a popular social media website.
"I got to say, Facebook is one of the main ones, especially the ads that are on the sides. People will get emails that look like it's trustworthy. They'll click on it and just by clicking on it, they get malware," Pettit said.
Just like businesses, there are ways you can prevent a malware attack.
"Keep your operating system up to date. You need to be running an anti-virus, anti-malware type system. There's tons of them out there and there's a lot of good ones," Pauli said.
Pauli says Microsoft Security Essentials is a reliable anti-virus software and it's free.