What Is Malware – Everything You Need To Know

Do you find it difficult to keep up with the rising number of online threats? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. A lot of people might have heard of the term “malware”, but how many average internet users actually understand what malware really is? In this guide, I’ll explain everything a regular internet user needs to know about these exceptionally popular internet threats.

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What is Malware?

Malware is the colloquial way of saying “malicious software”. By definition, then, malware is software that is developed with the intention of causing a target harm.

Not all malware cause definitive harm to a target’s system. In many cases, the malware isn’t even detectable without a proper anti-malware program. This is because not all malicious software is used to destroy data or obstruct the target from using the system. That being said, all malware share one thing in common: they all use up the processing power of a computer.

If you find that your system is running slower than usual even though you haven’t downloaded any CPU heavy software, then you should consider the possibility of malware.

Types of Malware

To know how to deal with malicious software, you should understand the different types around. It would be very improbable for me to list every single kind of malware out there. However, the following types of malware are the most common types that an average user may run into:

Virus

Known as the original type, computer viruses have gone through several definitions throughout the years. Today, a virus is most commonly defined as a program that is able to replicate itself without outside assistance. Viruses attach themselves to another program and act as an “on switch”, activating everytime a user turns on the host program.

Viruses are usually transmitted when a target downloads an infected file from an illegal source. Usually, illegal content shared over the internet isn’t as secure as legally purchased copies. In fact, the most common cause of a virus infection is illegal copying/downloading.

The best way to keep your system safe from computer viruses is to have a credible anti-virus program running on your system. It is also equally, if not more, important to constantly keep your anti-virus updated. The internet produces countless amounts of threats every day. An anti-virus program needs to regularly update its local database to be able to catch these new threats. If your anti-virus isn’t up-to-date, you run the risk of missing threats found on your system.

Spyware

One of the most terrifying types of malicious software is spyware. Spyware is used to gather as much information about the target as possible. It doesn’t harm your data as much as it logs your data.  Spyware is considered one of the biggest online threats to a user’s privacy.

Worms

Previously lumped in with Viruses, worms are now distinguished by their modes of operation.

A virus requires a host program to attach to. A worm, on the other hand, uses an independent process to propagate. Worms run in your system’s background and work on infecting your network as well. If you’re on a public network, then a worm will be able to access all systems connected to that network.

Even users who use private networks run the risk of spreading a worm via their email. A worm will access a user’s email account and send out copies of itself via email attachments. Anyone who ends up clicking on the attachment will end up infecting their system as well.

The good news is that anti-virus programs are able to catch worms as well as viruses. They can detect harmful email attachments and notify the user of the possible threat before the user downloads the program. Firewalls also stop worms from infecting a system by blocking all infection network connection requests.

Adware

If you know how online ads work, adware is incredibly easy to understand. Usually, when you click on a legitimate online ad, the owner of the ad gains revenue based on the number of clicks. Adware works within the same premise: the more clicks, the more money.

So, what’s the big deal with adware? Well, it doesn’t really give its target the option not to click on the ad. Adware will usually spam your system with so many ads that the only way you can get rid of them is by clicking.

In general, adware doesn’t really harm a target’s data or system. Adware is usually used to increase revenue from ads. The more you click on the pop-up windows, the more money your attacker makes. Adware can easily be removed by anti-malware software.

Trojan

Trojans are one of the most common types of malware today. This is because trojans install a “back door” in a target’s system that allows the attacker to manipulate any kind of download. In other words, a trojan will allow an attacker to download, install, and run a variety of other malware on a target’s computer.

Most of the time, a Trojan will hide within another program’s installation wizard. A lot of the times, a program advertising a particular computer-helping function will actually be a trojan in disguise.

As a rule of thumb, you should avoid downloading any program from an untrusted source. Make sure you only download software that is recommended by the large majority of its users. If you’re a torrenter, be wary of zip files, as they make hiding a Trojan exceptionally easy.

Keyloggers

Keyloggers aren’t malicious by nature, but by the intent of use. In general, a keylogger uses keystroke-logging software to continuously take note of all keystrokes made on the computer. A lot of parental control software use keyloggers to help parents monitor their children’s online communication.

In the malware family, though, keyloggers are malicious software that works towards recording personal information like passwords, bank account numbers, and personal communications.

Rootkit

Rootkits are nasty pieces of software that act as a security system for other bits of malware. They embed themselves deep into a target’s operating system and acquire high-scale privileges, like admin rights.

When this happens, a rootkit can easily do the following:

  • Restart malicious programs even if an anti-malware/virus has turned it off.
  • Hijack your browser to stop you from finding a solution to your malware problem.
  • Download and install other malicious programs without needing a user’s explicit consent.
  • Redirect you from websites that could benefit you with your malware problem.
  • Hide malicious software that’s already running on your system.
  • Allow an attacker to access your system through the installed back door.

In other words, rootkits are pretty dangerous because they make it easier for other malware to affect your system. A lot of the times the only thing that will get rid of a rootkit is re-installing your system’s OS entirely.

Ransomware

Ransomware is a very straightforward type of malware. They are infectious software that locks a target out of their device/system in order to allow the attacker to ransom access.

With ransomware, a target will usually find a screen that explicitly states the “ransom note’. Most of the time, the note will also try to scare a target into paying. Users infected by ransomware usually see a note telling them to pay for their “cybercrimes” in order to get access to their computer.

The biggest problem with ransomware is that paying your attacker won’t remove the program off your computer. In other words, you can’t guarantee that the attacker won’t lock you out of your system again. The only way to properly handle ransomware is to catch the program before it installs using credible anti-malware software.

Rogue Security Software

This type of malware is pretty self-explanatory. Sometimes, a software that advertises itself as security software is in fact malware in disguise. Rogue Security Software will usually ping a non-existing virus on your system. They’ll amp up the threat to the point of convincing the target to purchase some kind of malware removal tool. Safe to say…the tool won’t be legitimate either.

Cryptocurrency Miners

Now that cryptocurrencies are getting increasingly popular, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to learn that malware dedicated to cryptocurrencies exists.

Cryptocurrency miners are malware that installs onto your computer and use up your system to mine cryptocurrency. This particular type of attack is called cryptojacking. Now, crypto mining isn’t exactly a dangerous thing to do. What cryptocurrency miners do is primarily use up your resources. Nothing really happens to your data.

Browser Hijacker

Browser hijackers are malicious software that changes your browser’s settings. Usually, browser hijackers redirect you to websites the attacker wants to increase traffic to.

Browser hijackers mostly aren’t malicious. They’re usually used as boosters for online traffic. You can easily catch a browser hijacker by using an up-to-date anti-malware program.

Anti-Malware Strategies – How to Stay Protected

As complicated as some malicious software can be, the steps you have to take to protect yourself from them are actually pretty simple.

Anti-Malware

The first thing you need to do is have an anti-malware program installed and running on your system. Make sure the program is downloaded from a trusted source. Most people usually have anti-malware programs on their computer, they just so happen to be out of date. Turn on the auto-update feature if you’re the type of person that forgets to manually update your programs. What a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that anti-malware programs need to undergo regular updates so that they can continuously catch any new threats. If your program was last updated 2 months ago, how is it going to protect you from malicious software that was born a few weeks ago?

Anti-Virus

Next, you need to make sure that you also have an anti-virus program. Same as with the anti-malware, make sure that the program is always up-to-date. Both your anti-malware and your anti-virus should be running in the background whenever you’re about to download a file or access a page you’re not 100% sure of.

Be an Informed User

In general,  you need to become a more informed internet user. Always know where you’re downloading your files from. Make sure you never click on a link you don’t recognize, even if it’s in an email from someone you know. If you feel like the subject title or the topic of the link is something that person isn’t usually interested in, then it’s most probably malware. Be more conscious when you use the internet, especially since you now know what threats exist out there.

Virtual Private Networks

Finally, you can invest in a VPN service to keep your traffic and data secure, private, and anonymous while online. VPNs won’t do anything to remove malware off of your computer, but they do go a long way in helping you keep your data under wraps in case of an attack. Make sure that you’re using a credible paid-for VPN service, as most free VPNs come with their own set of malware and problems.

Malware Explained – Conclusion

For the average user, this is all you need to know about malware to keep you aware and informed. Be careful when you’re using the internet, not everyone you meet on there has your best interest at heart. Make sure to always understand where you’re clicking and why. Remember, keep your anti-virus and anti-malware programs up-to-date at all times.

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