What is a Malware?
Malware is any type of software, program, or code that illegally latches onto your computer for a number of reasons ranging from simple advertising and pranking, to the more damaging corruption of your PC, or worse, theft of personal, financial and business information.
In this post, we get to know the most common types of malware and the characteristics that differentiate them one from the other.
A virus is a program that attaches itself to an executable file or software, and then gets activated as soon as you run that software. A virus is designed to do damage to its target computer and even the simplest ones can corrupt data on your PC, reformat your hard disk, or bring your system to a grinding halt.
A computer virus always requires human interaction to be triggered and to spread to others, and is often transmitted through email attachments and internet downloads. That’s why vigilance is always an essential key to protecting your computer against viruses.
A worm is a standalone program that is able to replicate itself to infect other computers. While many consider it a type of virus, there is one marked difference: the worm can go from system to system without requiring a host file or intervention from anyone. Instead, a worm replicates itself in one computer and then exploits the security weakness of the computer network to spread. It can also infect others quickly through email, instant messaging apps, and P2P programs.
Because of their ability to disperse fast, worms are often used to execute a payload ⎼a piece of malicious code that can cause damage to the system⎼ on a practically unlimited number of computers. These payloads can delete files on a host system, encrypt data for a ransomware attack, steal information, and create massive botnets that are then controlled by hackers. But then again, even payload-free worms can still inflict harm to a system when they consume bandwidth and overload web servers.
TROJAN HORSE (OR TROJAN)
Named after the Trojan horse that the wily ancient Greeks used to enter Troy, a Trojan is a type of malicious software that enters your system disguised as a harmless, perfectly legitimate software. It’s easy to get tricked into downloading it because of its purported use, but as soon as you install a Trojan, you are essentially giving cyber criminals an opening to perform fraudulent activities on your system.
Different types of Trojans can perform a range of harmful actions on an infected computer. They can be used to destroy data, monitor user activity, steal financial information, download and install other types of malware into your computer, conduct Denial of Service (DoS) attacks on targeted web addresses, and more. Trojan malware is not self-replicating by itself; but combined with a worm, the damage that Trojans can inflict on users and systems is limitless.
As the term implies, ransomware is a type of malware that holds your data captive and then demands payment for its release. Ransomware usually enters your system through Trojans, redirected ads, or exploit kits. Whatever the entry method, what results is a locked down computer system, and/or inaccessible or encrypted data. Only the payment of ransom can bring your system or data back to its original state.
Ransomware is one of the most successful types of malware to hit the cyber crime scene in the recent years. This is because average computer users and small businesses are willing to shell out the few hundreds or thousands of dollars demanded as ransom in exchange for getting their data back. Not many of these attacks hit the news, or are even reported, but no doubt ransomware spells big business for cybercrooks.
Spyware is the term given to software installed on your computer without your knowledge, which is designed to track your browsing habits and internet activities. The information gleaned is then collated by a central server and used for targeted advertising.
However, while spyware was originally intended for marketing and advertising purposes, newer variations of this software have now expanded to include more intrusive actions such as collecting personal information found on your computer and changing your PC’s configuration which could cause it to slow down significantly or eventually crash.
The term adware is short for advertising-supported software. True to its name, adware displays ads automatically on your screen when you are online. It works closely with spyware to deliver ads that advertisers think you might be interested in based on your marketing data. It can also come bundled with the “free” versions of otherwise paid software and apps. Unsolicited pop-up ads and sponsored advertising (that you can’t skip) can be high on the annoyance meter, but in general, adware is not considered as harmful as the other types of malware.
With the advancement of technology also comes the further propagation of malware and rise of cybercrime. Each of the types discussed here can have several sub-classes and that’s not even counting the combinations that they can form. Let’s protect ourselves from malware as best as we can by putting up safeguards and observing best practices in computer use.