Macros can be useful if you’re someone who is working on his computer, or you just rely on Microsoft Office a lot. You can create shortcuts for every little thing you want which will minimize the amount of effort and time that you’ll have to sacrifice every time when creating a document, but there are also downsides to that, Macros have been proved to be dangerous multiple times throughout history.
But why is that? How can simple shortcuts for our tasks turn into something dangerous? It seems illogical, but it’s true, and for those who know what’s up with Macros, it’s pretty obvious too. After reading this article, it should be obvious to you too.
The definition of a Macro
In order to understand why Macros are dangerous, you must first learn what exactly they are and how they work. Macros are nothing more than bits of code, when you perform something through the graphical interface of let’s suppose Microsoft Word, you’re basically executing bits of code.
One way to align a paragraph to the center is to select the paragraph that you want to align, press the right click on your mouse, select “paragraph”, click on alignment, and choose centered. For each one of these steps that you took, you were executing a bit of a code, recording this using the Macros and setting it as a shortcut for you to avoid all the hassle on the next time that you’ll want to perform this, is nothing more than combining all of these bits of codes and performing them all at once.
So there you have it, Macros are nothing more than codes that will run through Microsoft Office and will help you get your job done faster and more efficiently.
How can a Macro be dangerous?
I know exactly what you’re thinking. If a Macro is nothing more than a bit of code that we create on our own, then how the heck can it be dangerous in any way? Well, practically speaking, you’re right, if you are the one who created the Macro then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. The thing is that you’re not the only one who can create Macros.
Pretty much everyone who has Microsoft Office can create Macros which is mostly fine because if you make a few exceptions such as deleting files and such, you will not be able to create a harmful code through Microsoft Office. But Macros, as mentioned before, are just bits of code that get executed through Microsoft Office, which means that you can execute pretty much any bit of code, even if it was not created through Microsoft Office.
If the code is basically saying “align the paragraph to the center” then everything is fine, but if it says “go and blow yourself up” then it should be something considerably dangerous. My point is, that these codes are not restricted only to Microsoft Office, if you have the experience you can use Macros to perform functions that will affect the whole computer. Hackers took advantage of this and created viruses that can harm you in multiple ways.
Macros and viruses
The very first viruses that were created to harm you through Macros were not all that dangerous, I think it was somewhere back on 2000-5 that one of the first 10 Macro viruses, upon infection, would give you a list with 80 porn websites and afterwards, it would send this list to another 20 people from your contacts. Not too bad if you ask me, I would actually love to get infected by a virus like that “wink”.
But that was back then, nowadays Macro viruses have been getting more and more dangerous. Let’s take the Ransomware virus as an example, the Ransomware virus will likely get to you through an email that has a Microsoft Word file attached to it, that Word File has a malicious Macro in it, once you open it the majority of your files will get encrypted and a ransom will have to be paid to get the decryption keys and ultimately, your files.
I think that this is a pretty good example of someone who managed to take advantage of Macros to harm people for his sake, he created a code that would encrypt files, send the decryption key to him, and that would automatically send you a message about the whole situation (more or less, usually the hacker himself pretends to be your hero who will find a key for you if you pay him) either by changing your wallpaper into the description, or by attaching notes to all of your folders.
How to protect yourself
By now it should be pretty obvious why Macros can harm you, but how can you protect yourself from these hackers who will try to harm you through them? Logically speaking, if a Word file has a malicious Macro to it, you will not know about it until it’s too late. There are 3 ways around this.
- Use your common sense
- Disable Macros
- Install security software
Use your common sense
Think before you act, if you got an email from someone that you don’t know check the subject, does it look suspicious? Why would it have Macros in it? Does it make sense? It’s true that once you open a malicious Macro it will be too late to do anything about it, but how about before that? Analyze each situation a bit and decide for yourself if the file that you received is a trustworthy one.
If you do not rely on Macros you can just turn them off, that’s what I do too. If you do that then even if you receive a malicious Macro, you will be fine, unless you forcefully open it on your own. The process of disabling Macros may vary for different versions of the application that you have, for the Microsoft Word 2007 you have to click on the Microsoft Office icon “upper left corner” click on word options, click on trust center, click on trust center settings, click on Macro settings, and disable them.
Install security software
If you’re someone who constantly uses Macros, then apart from using your common sense, you can also install an Antivirus and an Anti-Malware. I can’t recommend a specific Antivirus because different Antivirus programs offer different features at different prices, so make your own research and pick for your own whatever suits you best.
But for Anti-Malware, things are pretty simple. Antimalware removes adware, malware, ransomware, spyware like advance cyber threats. All of them more or less have the same features, so the one that I would recommend is MalwareFox. It offers a fine balance between being lightweight, effective, and cost-efficient.
Security programs should detect and prevent the infection from a malicious Macro but don’t completely rely on them. You must still use your common sense whenever possible, malicious Macros are usually made in a really smart way, there is a chance that both of your security programs will miss it, so keep your eyes open and stay safe.