Malware, short for “malicious software,” includes any software (such as a virus, Trojan, or spyware) that is installed on your computer or mobile device. The software is then used, usually covertly, to compromise the integrity of your device.
Most commonly, malware is designed to give attackers access to your infected computer. That access may allow others to monitor and control your online activity or steal your personal information or other sensitive data.
A brief history of malware:
This term was first used by computer scientist and security research Yisrael Radai in 1990. However, malware existed long before this.
The first known example of malware was the Creeper virus in 1971, which was created as an experiment by BBN Technologies engineer Robert Thomas.
Creeper was designed to infect mainframes on ARPANET. The program moved from one mainframe to another without permission while displaying a teletype message that read, “I’m the creeper: Catch me if you can.”
It was later modified by computer scientist Ray Tomlinson, who added the ability to self-replicate to the virus.
This is now regarded as the first computer worm.
In this guide I will be discussing the following:
- How malware works.
- Types of malware.
- How to prevent malware.
- Malware removal.
How does malware work?
Malware typically infects a machine by tricking users into clicking and/ or installing a program that they shouldn’t from the internet.
When the click on installation occurs, the malicious code executes actions that the user doesn’t anticipate or intend.
Here are 5 actions a malicious code could execute:
- Self-replication in different parts of the file system.
- Installing applications that capture keystrokes or commandeer system resources, often running without the user being aware, while slowing the system down considerably.
- Blocking access to files, programs or even the system itself, sometimes forcing the user to make a payment to regain access.
- Bombarding a browser or desktop with ads.
- Breaking essential system components and rendering a device inoperable.
Execution can be triggered by a number of user actions, but the most common trigger is a click, typically on a link or pop-up.
The description might say something provocative like, “Claim your prize” or “Your account has been compromised. Please log in and verify changes.”
Other times, a pop-up will be displayed immediately after clicking the link, such as, “Your system is infected! Click here to run a scan.”
The next click often triggers the download of a malicious payload, even if the user doesn’t select one of the options and instead tries to close the program.
Malware can also be disguised as a program or app that claims to convert PDFs, unzip files, find products discounts or provide caller ID functionality on a smartphone.
But once the program is downloaded, it begins making unauthorized changes on the system.
- Monitoring user behavior.
- Displaying pop-ups.
- Changing search engine results.
- Adding icons to a desktop.
- Redirecting popular sites.
Types of Malware
There are many unique types of malware that can infect your computer.
Here are most common types of malware:
Adware – a type of software that downloads or displays unwanted ads when a user is online or redirects search requests to certain advertising websites.
Botnets – networks of computers infected by malware and controlled remotely by cybercriminals, usually for financial gain or to launch attacks on websites or networks. Many botnets are designed to harvest data, such as passwords, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and other personal information.
Ransomware – a type of malware that infects a computer and restricts access to it until a ransom is paid by the user to unlock it. Even when a victim pays the ransom amount, the stolen files could remain locked or be deleted by the cybercriminal.
Rootkit – a type of malware that opens a permanent “back door” into a computer system. Once installed, a rootkit will allow additional viruses to infect a computer as various hackers find the vulnerable computer exposed and compromise it.
Spyware – a type of malware that quietly gathers a user’s sensitive information (including browsing and computing habits) and reports it to unauthorized third parties.
Trojan – a type of malware that disguises itself as a normal file to trick a user into downloading it in order to gain unauthorized access to a computer.
Virus – a program that spreads by first infecting files or the system areas of a computer or network router’s hard drive and then making copies of itself. Some viruses are harmless, others may damage data files, and some may destroy files entirely.
Worm – a type of malware that replicates itself over and over within a computer.
How to prevent Malware
Here are 6 simple tips to help protect yourself against malware attacks:
- Keep a clean machine
Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Keeping the software on your device up-to-date will prevent attackers from being able to take advantage of known vulnerabilities.
- When in doubt, throw it out
Links in emails and online posts are often the way criminals compromise your computer. If it looks suspicious, even if you know the source, it’s best to delete it.
- Think before you act
Be wary of communications that implores you to act immediately, offers something that sounds too good to be true, or asks for personal information.
- Use strong passwords
Make your password eight characters or longer and use a mix of upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Use stronger authentication
Always opt to enable stronger authentication when available, especially for accounts with sensitive information including your email or bank accounts. A stronger authentication helps verify a user has authorized access to an online account.
For example, it could be a one-time PIN texted to a mobile device, providing an added layer of security beyond the password and username.
- Back up your system
By regularly backing up your important files, you minimize the risk of a complete system failure caused by malware.
Infections can be devastating to an individual or organization, and recovery can be a difficult process that may require the services of a reputable data recovery specialist.
If your computer has been compromised by malware, you can either consult with a reputable security expert to assist in removing the malware or use a legitimate program to help eliminate the infection.
Here are some programs that help in malware removal process:
- F-Secure: http://www.f-secure.com/en/web/home_global/ online-scanner
- McAfee: http://www.mcafee.com/stinger
- Microsoft: http://www.microsoft.com/security/scanner/en-us/ default.aspx
- Sophos: http://www.sophos.com/VirusRemoval
- Trend Micro: http://www.trendmicro.com/threatdetector
Now I want to hear from you.
What you think of malware threats and attacks.
Or maybe I missed as import aspect of malware software.
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below.