What is Malware?
Malware, or malicious software, is any program or file harmful to a computer user. Types of malware can include computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and spyware. These malicious programs can perform various functions such as stealing, encrypting, or deleting sensitive data, altering or hijacking core computing functions and monitoring users’ computer activity.
Malware can also be found on mobile phones and can access a device’s components such as the camera, microphone, GPS, or accelerometer. Malware can be contracted on a mobile device if a user downloads an unofficial application or clicks on a malicious link from an email or text message. A mobile device can also be infected through a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection.
Different Types of Malware
Different types of malware contain unique traits and characteristics. Types of malware include:
- A virus is the most common malware that can execute itself and spread by infecting other programs or files.
- A worm can self-replicate without a host program and typically spreads without any human interaction or directives from the malware authors.
- A Trojan horse is designed to appear as a legitimate software program to access a system. Once activated following installation, Trojans can execute their malicious functions.
- Spyware is made to collect information and data on the device and user and observe the user’s activity without their knowledge.
- Ransomware is designed to infect a user’s system and encrypt its data. Cybercriminals then demand a ransom payment from the victim in exchange for decrypting the system’s data.
- A rootkit is created to obtain administrator-level access to the victim’s system. Once installed, the program gives threat actors root or privileged access to the system.
- A backdoor virus or remote access Trojan (RAT) secretly creates a backdoor into an infected computer system that enables threat actors to remotely access it without alerting the user or the system’s security programs.
- Keyloggers, also called system monitors, track nearly everything a user does on their computer. This includes emails, opened webpages, programs and keystrokes.
Defense Against Malware
There are several ways users can prevent malware. In the case of protecting a personal computer, users can install antimalware software. Beyond that, users can avoid malware by practicing safe behavior on their computers or other personal devices. This includes not opening attachments from strange email addresses that may contain malware disguised as a legitimate attachment. Such emails may even claim to be from legitimate companies but have unofficial email domains. Users should also update their antimalware software regularly, as hackers are constantly adapting and developing new techniques to breach security software. Security software vendors respond by releasing updates that patch those vulnerabilities. If users neglect to update their software, they may miss out on a patch that leaves them vulnerable to a preventable exploit. Regularly backup data to an external hard drive, using the 3-2-1 rule (create three backup copies on two different media with one backup stored in a separate location). If possible, disconnect the hard drive from the device to prevent backup data encryption.