You might not think it, but malware is more than just a problem for big businesses. It affects everyone with a computer, mobile phone and tablet. In 2015 alone, Symantec discovered over 430 million new kinds of malware that appeared on mobile devices, computers and servers.
But what is malware anyway? What does it do, where does it come from, and what does it do to a computer once infected? In this blog post, we’re going to answer these questions and more. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll know enough to have an intelligible conversation about malware, and how to make sure that you are protected from it at all times.
What is malware
Malware is a term used to refer to malicious software and is a combination of the two words. As you’ll note further along in this blog post, there are different forms of malware and the term is hence used to describe any form of software that’s been designed with malicious intent.
Malicious intent, in this case, is any kind of action that is performed by a piece of software without your permission. This definition adds to the common understanding of what malware is: that it’s a threat which finds a backdoor or vulnerability on a computer and exploits it and causes damage.
The different versions of malware
Malware take various forms, consisting of different programs and pieces of programs. Here is a list of the most commonly known types of malware:
Spyware: mostly used for tracking, collecting and storing data, spyware is designed to infect a computer and give the hacker access to personal and corporate information. In most cases, spyware is so advanced that it’s hard to pick up. A commonly known form of spyware is called a keylogger which tracks your keyboard strokes.
Virus: a type of software program that’s designed to be replicated once executed. As the virus replicates, it also injects its code into other software programs, data files and the boot sector of a computer’s hard drive.
Worm: a program that spreads and replicates itself on other computers within the same network or through the internet. Like other forms of malware, worms rely on vulnerabilities in operating systems and other software in order to spread. While there is very little evidence that worms damage or corrupt other programs of files, their ability to replicate and spread has been known to affect bandwidth and cripple networks.
Trojan horse: a form of malware that’s designed to appear and operate as legitimate software, but begins to work in the background without the computer user knowing.
Browser hijacker: malware that installs itself and alters your browser settings. Changes include replacing home pages, search engines and including unwanted advertisements.
Rootkit: A rootkit consists of a combination of programs designed to access a computer by exploiting software vulnerabilities related to administration rights. Once access is obtained, the malware masks its existence and the existence of other software and has full control over a computer, allowing it to change existing applications including antivirus software designed to protect against malware.
Wiper: a class of malware that gains access to a computer system with the intent of wiping (removing) all data.
Ransomware: malicious software that arrests a victim’s data by encrypting various files on a computer. Hackers design ransomware to present a ransom request (usually in the form of money), which when met results in the victim receiving a key to decrypt their personal files.
Adware: a program designed to entice users to click on an advertisement while other malware is downloaded in the background.
Hybrid versions of malware
Today, most malware threats come as combinations of these and other forms of malware. More recently, Petya was found to be ransomware that was also a wiper.
What kind of damage does malware cause?
Some of the most recent instances of malware that rocked the world were Wannacry and Petya. In both cases, they left a considerable amount of damage in their wake, crippling large businesses and causing unimaginable amounts of financial loss.
Wannacry is said to have affected over 200,000 users in at least 150 countries; this number not accounting for China where over 40,000 private and public organisations were said to have been hit. Some of the more prominent business names impacted by Wannacry were US courier company FedEX, German railway company Deutche Bahn, Spain’s telecom giant Telefónica, and Britain’s National Health Services.
VIDEO: Ransomware Wannacry attached explained
Petya, on the other hand, appears to have been contained within Europe. Among the enterprises affected were shipping giant Maersk, British advertising agency WPP, Russian oil giant Rosneft, Ukraine government departments and also several ATM machines in the country.
Video: Petya spreading fast
In both cases, the ransom request was between 300 and 600 US Dollars in Bitcoin currency, showing that this threat was targeted at individuals and not the large organisations who ultimately suffered.
How infections happen
The majority of malware infections are due to vulnerabilities that exist in operating systems or software. Often, users unknowingly receive a piece of malware via email or by visiting a site. The malware is downloaded onto their computer and gets to work.
How to protect your computer against malware threats
Antivirus software (AV) is the simplest solution to dealing with malware. By their nature, antivirus applications are managed by companies who constantly search for new virus code that they can create fixes for. Once they have a fix, the AV software on your computer is updated with the latest threat solutions, protecting you in the event of an attack.
In addition to AV software, applying the latest operating system security patches and updates helps prevent your computer from infection.
How to protect your website against malware threats
Like your computer, your website can also be infected by malware. Luckily, there are solution you can put in place to scan your site regularly for any infections. One such solution is the GeoTrust Anti-Malware Website Scan.
Here’s a breakdown of the how the solution can help protect your website:
- Daily anti-malware scan for regular check-ups
- Analysis of web pages to identify malicious code & activity, enabling easy clean-up of an infected site
- Instant alerts identifying malicious code to enable fast malware removal
- On-demand scans for quick confirmation of clean site status
You also receive a trust mark from GeoTrust, the #1 brand of SSL for the top 1 million most-visited domain.
Protect your site now with the GeoTrust Anti-Malware Website Scan
Why malware sometimes wins
While having AV software on your computer most certainly helps, once in a blue moon new malware surfaces that very few, if any, AV companies know how to handle. In some cases, AV companies are able to remedy the attack with the rollout of an update, but this is unfortunately not always the case.
Malware is software designed with malicious intent. It comes comes in various forms and is a rapidly growing threat that doesn’t only target big business, but everyday computer users as well. Staying protected is as easy as installing the latest operating system security patches and constantly updating your antivirus software.