What is malware?
Malware, or “malicious software,” is defined as any type of software that is specifically intended to be deployed maliciously. It is the malicious intent of the software that sets it apart from other types of software.
Malware is widely used in most cyber attacks. Criminals deploy malware in order to harm the victims they are targeting, either by damaging their files, stealing their confidential data, or even taking control over their computer systems.
How does malware work?
Cyber criminals use a variety of tactics to install malware on a victim’s computer systems:
Email is the most common method for infecting computer systems with malware. Typically, cyber attackers will send emails containing malicious links or attachments. All it takes is one person in an organisation to click on the malicious link, or open the malicious attachment, and the malware will be installed.
SMS and Instant Messaging Applications
Cyber attackers are increasingly sending malicious files through SMS and instant messaging applications. People often let their guard down and readily click on links or files that are sent to them by their contacts who may have been compromised.
Sophisticated cyber criminals either compromise existing websites or create malicious websites to trick people into installing malware. A compromised website may display banner advertisements or pop-up alerts that, when clicked, infect the computer. Cyber criminals even create fake websites that infect a victim when they visit the site, even without clicking any links. This is known as a “drive-by download” and occurs when criminals use DNS hijacking to redirect a visitor from a legitimate site to the fake malicious site.
Deceiving individuals into inserting a compromised USB stick into a computer is one of the most effective ways to install malware. When protecting yourself from malware, it’s critical that you don’t forget to secure your physical environment.
Shared media files using torrent websites is a high-risk activity. When you download a movie or music file, you may unknowingly be downloading malware too.
What are the different types of malware?
These are some of the most common types of malware that cyber criminals use:
A virus starts by infecting a clean file in your system and can then spread to other clean files. Viruses can damage your system’s functionality and may delete or corrupt your files.
A trojan is a legitimate looking file that tricks a victim into executing it. Once executed, the trojan will then install additional malicious software on the computer.
Spyware infects your computer systems and attempts to spy on you, stealing confidential information, such as login and password credentials to networks, files or applications, including banking portals.
Adware collects personal information about you and then sends unsolicited advertisements to you that generate revenue for the attacker.
Rootkits are a type of malware that can be hard to detect as they are installed deep into your systems. They may give hackers full administrator rights over your system.
Perhaps the most high-profile type of malware. Ransomware encrypts files, or entire computer systems. The victim is forced to pay a hefty ransom payment before the criminals restore access.
Similar to viruses, but they are self-replicating and can easily spread from one computer system to another. Several high-profile wormable attacks in recent years have caused widespread damage.
Keyloggers retain a record of everything that is types on your keyboard. They can allow attackers to discover your login and password credentials to a range of applications and systems.
Scareware is a type of social engineering attack. The victim is scared into executing malware, for example by clicking on a pop-up alert urging them to install a security update.
4 Simple tips for preventing malware
Install anti-virus software
Make sure you have anti-virus software installed on your device and make sure you regularly run updates. It will help protect you by scanning your computer for known malware. It can also run updates to protect you from newly identified malware.
Don’t click on unknown links
Cyber criminals routinely carry out their attacks by deceiving people into clicking dangerous links. Before clicking any link, particularly in an email, place the cursor over the link to view the domain. Never click links where you don’t recognise the domain. Also, you need to be on the lookout for spoofed domains. Attackers will set up domains that look very similar to a genuine domain – so check a domain carefully for any anomalies or spelling errors before clicking.
Don’t download unknown attachments
Never open attachments in emails unless you know the sender. Attachments can execute malicious files without you being aware. Even seemingly safe files, such as Excel, may contain macros that automatically run malicious code.
Regularly back up your data
In many cases, those that seek to attack you are after your sensitive data. Make sure all your data is backed up on a regular basis to a separate hard drive. In the event of a ransomware attack, you will still have access to your critical corporate and customer data, so the impact on business operations will be contained.
Malware frequently asked questions
Is malware a virus?
Viruses are a type of malware, but not all malware take the form of viruses. A virus is a specific type of malware that inserts malicious code into other programs.
Can malware be removed?
Malware removal from your computer is possible. Anti-virus software will do a good job at removing most known malware. The real challenge is when new types of malware are being deployed by attackers. Your anti-virus might not be able to detect it. That is why preventing malware is absolutely critical.
Who creates malware?
Malware is created by cyber criminals for a variety of reasons. In the case of state-based actors, they may deploy malware as part of intelligence gathering. Malware may be deployed by corporations when conducting espionage against a competitor’s research or patents. Financially motivated criminals may seek to infect victims’ systems with malware in order to steal customer data or encrypt their systems pending payment of a ransom.
How do you detect malware?
Malware detection is possible. There are some common signs that your computer system has been infected by malware:
- Reduced performance: Malware may consume a lot of your computer’s processing power, slowing down your systems.
- Deleted or corrupted files: You may suddenly find that you cannot access certain files, or the data in those files have been tampered with.
- Pop-up ads: This is most commonly identified with adware.
- Browser redirects: If you attempt to visit a website and get redirected to a different website, this could be an indication of DNS hijacking.
- Messages sent to your contacts: If your contacts claim that they are receiving messages from you via email, SMS or instant messaging applications, yet you have not sent those messages, it is likely that your device has been compromised by malware.
- Ransom message: If you find yourself prevented from accessing your files and you see a ransom message on your screen, it is likely you are being targeted in a ransomware attack.
- New applications: Malware may install unknown applications on your device which are designed to compromise your data.
How can Phriendly Phishing help?
With so many different types of malware attacks in the wild, your organisation needs a multi-layered approach to stay secure. Anti-virus software can help identify and remove known malware, but cyber criminals are constantly developing and deploying new types of malware. Your anti-virus software may not be able to protect you from threats it doesn’t yet know about.
That’ why prevention is key. Making sure everyone in your organisation has a thorough understanding of malware and how cyber criminals infect targeted computer systems is essential. With ongoing training, your team will be equipped with the skills they need to identify suspicious emails, links or attachments.
Give your team the tools they need to protect your organisation with Phriendly Phishing. Our unique Australian training platform takes your team on a journey of discovery. With ongoing interactive learnings, your team will gain a deeper awareness of the methods being used by cyber attackers and will be able to prevent many emerging threats.