What is Malware?
Malware, or malicious software comprise a variety of threats including viruses, worms, trojans and other dangerous programs that cybercriminals utilize to obtain access to sensitive information on computer systems. Any software designed to cause damage to a personal computer, server or network is referred to as malware. That is to say, software can be defined more on its intended use, as opposed to the technique or technology that was used to create it.
Types of malware
There are multiple ways to classify malware; the first is by identifying how the software proliferates. The terms trojan, virus and worm describe different avenues that malware takes to infect computer systems.
- Trojan | A trojan is unable to reproduce itself. It disguises itself as an application or program the user may want to use and deceptively tricks them into clicking on it to activate and get to work.
- Virus | This is a string of computer code that embeds itself in another program’s code forcing the program to act in a dangerous manner and to spread.
- Worm | This is a destructive piece of software that is able to reproduce by itself and spread from system to system.
It’s also possible for malware to manually be installed on a computer system either by gaining access to the computer or by gaining remote access as an administrator.
An alternative way to group malware is to classify it once it has successfully gained access and infected a particular computer system. Malware has the ability to attack its target through a number of techniques:
- Spyware | Spyware is a form of malware designed to covertly gather information from a computer system. It essentially spies on a computer user’s behaviour and the information they send and receive.
- Rootkit | This is a collection of software applications that provides a hacker with remote access to a designated computer system.
- Adware | Adware is a type of malware that directs users’ internet browsers to web ads that often endeavor to download additional dangerous software.
- Ransomware | Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a user’s files and follows with demands for monetary payments or other actions in exchange for the encryption key. Without this key, it is impossible for users to obtain access to their computer system and files.
- Malvertising | Malvertising uses recognized ads to secretly send malware to user’s computer systems. As an example, a cybercriminal could purchase an ad from a legitimate website and once clicked, a string of code will install malware on the user’s computer or direct the user to a malicious website.
Malware includes both a path of infection and a behavioral classification. It is also possible for a certain sample of malware to take different forms with different attack vectors. Without doubt, the most common infection vector is directed via spam email. This deceives the user into activating malware by way of a trojan.
How to Prevent a Malware Attack
Spam and phishing emails are the primary vectors used to disseminate malware and infect computers. The best way to keep your computer systems secure is to know how to spot the dangers and ensure email programs are fully secured. Restricting potentially dangerous behavior, carefully checking email attachments and familiarizing yourself with current phishing scams are a few of the ways to prevent yourself from a malware attack.
Additional measures include ensuring that computer systems have updated virus and malware protection programs and to continuously conduct system scans and updates. Another recommendation is to always ensure your data and files are backed in the event that an attack occurs and the only option available is to wipe your computer clean and reinstall all your programs.
The most popular and widely used product for malware protection is of course, antivirus software. Despite incorporating the word “virus” in the name, most antivirus software protects all forms of malware. The best antivirus software currently on the market is supplied from Kaspersky Lab, Symantec and Trend Micro, according to AV-TEST, an independent organization that evaluates and rates antivirus software.
For those that manage advanced corporate networks, endpoint security or endpoint protection, which is a method for computer networks that are remotely bridged to client devices, provide a comprehensive and thorough defense against malware. In addition to signature-based malware detection, it provides anti-spyware, personal firewall, application control and other prevention.
Major Malware Attacks from the Past
Malware attacks have wreaked havoc on personal computer systems since the early 80s causing billions of dollars in damages. A few of the major malware attacks from the past include:
- CryptoLocker | CryptoLocker is the universal ransomware assault with a code that gets reassigned in related malware attacks.
- Conficker | This worm took advantage of flaws in Windows using a number of attack vectors including inserting malicious code to phishing emails and cracking passwords in order to hijack Windows systems and a number of internet-connected devices running one or more bots.
- ILOVEYOU | This worm created a snowball effect back in 2000 causing at least $15 billion in damage.
- SQL Slammer | SQL Slammer was responsible for pausing the flow of internet traffic within a few minutes of its first rapid spread in 2003.
- Stuxnet | Stuxnet was an incredibly advanced worm that infected the Iranian Nuclear facility in Natanz back in 2010. The operation, conducted by U.S. and Israeli Intelligence agencies destroyed uranium-enriching centrifuges, setting the Iranian program back many years.
- Zeus | Zeus was a keylogger trojan that targeted banking information in the late 2000s.
Malware attacks are difficult threats to identify and protect against. Understanding how malware operates, the vectors used to infiltrate users’ computer systems and keeping up-to-date with current trends is critical to keeping your information systems secure. With the correct processes and systems and ensuring you have the latest anti-virus software that is kept up-to-date, you will severely hamper any malware attacks doing the rounds on the internet.