The Trojan horse is a term that originates from Greek mythology, describing the tactic used to bring down the city of Troy. The Greeks built a large wooden horse, hiding a group of soldiers inside, and presented it as a gift to the Trojans. The Trojans unsuspectingly brought the horse inside their fortified walls, believing it to be a gift of peace. As night fell, the Greek soldiers emerged from the horse, opening the gates of Troy and ending the decade-long siege.
Fast forward to the modern age, and the term ‘Trojan horse’ is no longer just a mythological storyline. It has become a commonly used term in cybersecurity, referring to a type of malware that disguises itself as a legitimate programme. The Trojan horse works by exploiting the weakness of the victim’s computer, allowing attackers to gain unauthorized access and control.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how Trojan horses work, the various types available, their impact on victims, and how to protect yourself against them.
What Is a Trojan Horse?
A Trojan horse is a type of malicious software designed to conceal its true purpose from the victim. It baits users by masquerading itself as a legitimate software, often disguising itself as an enticing file that a user might download to make their PC work better. Common disguises include free antivirus software, software updates, or driver downloads.
Once the user downloads and executes the disguised malware, it executes any combination of instructions instructed by the attacker. The malware can perform various activities such as installing more malicious software, spying and stealing data, or giving hackers control to the victim’s system. By the time victims realise their system has been compromised, it is often too late.
The Evolution of Trojan Horses
The first Trojan horse was reported in 1975 and was called the “Wabbit,” taking its origination from the famous bug problems in Looney Tunes. It was a self-replicating programme that took up significant amounts of computer memory, making it tough to detect until the machine crashed.
As technology evolved and the internet became more accessible, Trojan horses became more sophisticated and harder to detect. Nowadays, they can be propagating themselves on autonomous networks and may have extensive administrative rights on users’ systems. With advancements in social engineering attacks, hackers can easily compel users to download and execute malicious programmes.
Types of Trojan Horses
There are many different types of Trojan horses, each tailored to perform malicious activities that range from social engineering to complex data breaches. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common types of Trojan horses.
Nowadays, most cybercriminals utilize rootkits to compromise users’ systems and dodge recognition from anti-virus programs. Rootkits typically elevate their administration access privileges into the system kernel level, allowing them to execute foreign code without being detected by the system.
Backdoor Trojan Horses:
Backdoor Trojan horses, as the name suggests, create backdoors in the user’s system that attackers use to access the system without permission. Once backdoors are configured, an attacker can use them for command-line access to download and install other malicious software to the victim’s system.
Data-Sending Trojan Horses:
Data-sending Trojan horses operate silently on victims’ systems, stealing sensitive and valuable data from their targets. The retrieved data is then sent back to the attacker, enabling them to use the gathered information for blackmail, cyber espionage, or other malicious activities.
How Trojan Horses Work
As mentioned earlier, Trojan horses are often disguised as legitimate software and delivered to victims' systems via social engineering attacks. Once installed, attackers can manipulate the system to perform a plethora of unauthorized tasks without the victim's knowledge.
These tasks may include:
Stealing Your Information
Once hackers have access to your system, they can extract valuable data such as Banking credentials, personal identification information (PII) and other sensitive data to execute fraudulent transactions and impersonate the victim. Hackers may also use this as leverage to extort their victims.
Performing Unauthorized Activities with Your System
After hackers have gained access to victims’ systems, they can utilise them for various activities, such as sending spam messages or launching Distributed Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. Backdoor Trojan horses can be used to hide other malware like viruses and keyloggers, compromising victims’ systems in multiple ways. The attacker may also force a victim’s system to participate in an illegal botnet network.
Aiding Anonymity and Privacy Invasion
Attackers can use Trojan horses to elevate their administration access privileges and remain anonymous on the victim’s system while performing their malicious activities. With this access, hackers can place spying or surveillance tools on the victim’s computer, allowing them to monitor and record user activity.
Protecting Yourself Against Trojan Horses
The best protection against Trojan horses is to follow some basic cybersecurity best practices, including:
- Only download files from verified sources or trusted websites.
- Ensure that your antivirus software is always updated and valid.
- Avoid clicking on sketchy links sent via email or messaging platforms.
- Avoid downloading and installing executable files from untrusted sources or without scanning with a legitimate antivirus.
- Keep all of your systems, applications, and software updated with latest security patches to abate vulnerabilities.
- Monitor your system’s activity, log-in sessions, and network traffic for abnormalities regularly.
In summary, Trojan horses are a type of malware that hackers use to gain access to your system by masking their malicious intentions behind attractive software. They can be used for a variety of nefarious activities such as stealing data, performing illegal activities, or aiding in identity theft and fraud.
To avoid falling prey to Trojan Horses and their impact, it is essential that we practice basic cybersecurity best practices such as avoiding suspicious downloads and sites, using up-to-date antivirus software and scanning files before use, monitoring our systems’ activities regularly, and keeping our software updated with the latest security patches.
While the Trojan horse may have originated in Greek mythos, it's up to us to ensure that this mythical figure remains a fable in our modern age, lest we be victims of a malicious Trojan attack in this digital age.