Ever since the birth of computing, people have fought the threat of malware. Malware is a contraction for “malicious software,” designed to harm or exploit any programmable device, service, or network. Malware is typically delivered as a link or file over email and requires the user to click on the link or open the file to execute the malware.
Hackers and other cybercriminals typically design it to extract data that they can leverage over victims for financial gain. However, malware can be created for other reasons too – it can be used as a tool for protest, a way to test security, or even as weapons of war.
But one thing is certain: the main intention for malware is to cause the most disruption and damage possible.
How Can I Get Malware?
No matter the type of malware, they all follow the same basic pattern: the user unwittingly downloads or installs the malware, which immediately infects the device.
Most malware infections occur when the user performs an action that causes the malware to be downloaded. This can either be visiting a malicious website or clicking a link in an email.
Sometimes, hackers spread malware through free software download bundles. Embedding malware in a popular torrent or download is an effective way to spread it across a user base.
Another way is to load malware into a USB stick or flash drive. Since the malware is loaded onto the device’s internal hardware and not its file storage, it is hardly recognized.
What Does Malware Do?
Malware can do all kinds of things, from stealing sensitive data to destroying entire systems and even devices. Malware can crack weak passwords, break into systems, and spread through networks to more victims. Other reasons why cybercriminals use malware are:
- Stealing consumer credit card data
- Obtaining control of multiple computers to launch attacks against other networks
- Tricking the victim into providing personal data for identity theft
- Infecting computers and using them to mine cryptocurrencies
Hackers aim malware attacks against individuals, big companies, and sometimes even governments. Depending on the type of malware, this harm can take many forms and may present itself differently.
Types of Malware
Different types of malware can be categorized based on how they spread and how they behave, the most common types of malware are:
Viruses are the most common type of malware. They, like their biological namesakes, attach themselves to clean files, infect them, and wait for an unsuspecting user or an automated process to execute them.
This type of malware disguises itself as legitimate software or is tampered with legitimate software. It acts discreetly and breaches security by creating backdoors for other malware variants.
Spyware is designed to spy on you. It hides in the background and observes your activity to collect information and data.
Worms are different from viruses because they spread without a host file. They infect networks or devices by using network interfaces.
Ransomware infects a user’s system and encrypts its data. Then, they demand a ransom for decrypting the system’s data.
How To Recognize If Your Device Has Been Infected
Certain types of malware are easier to recognize than others. Some make their presence known immediately, like ransomware. Others, like Trojans and spyware, hide from the user as long as possible, meaning they could be on the system long before they’re discovered. There are some unusual activities that may indicate the presence of malware:
- Sudden loss of available storage space
- Unusually slow speeds
- Repeated crashes or freezes
- Browser redirects
- Pop-up advertisements
- Problems shutting down or starting your computer
Slow performance and reduced storage space don’t always point to malware. Your device may naturally get clogged over time with unneeded files. It’s always a good idea to clean things up regularly, and if your device’s performance returns to normal, it wasn’t a malware infection.
Keep an Eye Out For Malware
Malware can do serious harm to your device and to yourself. Simple things like not opening unknown files, not visiting harmful websites, not inserting unfamiliar USB drives into your computer, and having an anti-malware strategy could save you a lot. Keep an eye out for malware and keep your devices and personal information safe.