With a master's degree in telecommunications and over 15 years of working experience in telecommunic... | See full bio
The Different Types of Malware and How To Stay Safe
Updated · Jul 26, 2023
After getting a master's degree in Literature, Publishing, and Mass Media, Teodora spent most of her... | See full bio
Have you ever had a scary warning from a program you can’t recall installing on your computer?
Or maybe you logged into your social media account only to see a status or photo you never uploaded?
Everything I mentioned above suggests your PC has been infected by malware. To remove it and keep browsing the web or playing games, you need to know what you’re dealing with. The problem is, there are different types of malware.
You don’t have to be a tech genius to figure out which of these threats has found its way into your device. Most of them strike differently, and if you do your homework, identifying them shouldn’t be as tough as it seems.
So, where exactly do you start?
First, you need to understand what malware is. Then, look at some of the most common types of it you can stumble upon and learn more about cyberterrorism and malware attacks.
I am here to guide you.
What Is Malware?
Malware is the collective name for a variety of programs that infect and cause damage to computers and computer networks.
The term malware stems from two words - “malicious” and “software”. These things have been around since the 1980s when the first viruses Elk Cloner (Mac) and Brain (PC) appeared. The majority of early malicious software was spread via floppy disks. Thanks to the internet, they now have the chance to reach almost anyone. Sometimes, it’s enough to click on the wrong link and your device might get infected.
In 2020, there were over 5.6 billion malware attacks. The funny part is that this is relatively low compared to 9.9 billion attacks in 2019.
Depending on the type of malware, it can harm them in all sorts of ways. Sometimes, it is mild and benign, but it can be disastrous as well. Regardless of how they do it, all types of malware are designed to exploit devices at the expense of the user.
The creators rely on both physical and virtual means to transmit them to other devices. For instance, you can deliver one to a system just by plugging in a USB device or through a drive-by download.
Although spread similarly, not all malware is the same.
Let me explain.
Different Types of Malware
There are numerous malware programs that can infect your computer. I singled out some of the most common:
People often refer to Trojans as viruses, but that’s a misnomer. One of the primary features of viruses is that they can replicate themselves. Trojans don’t do that, and in order for them to activate on your computer, you have to execute them.
Here’s how it all works:
You believe you’ve received a genuine email from someone. There’s an attachment in it and you click on it. The email is from a black hat hacker, however, who wants to get their hands on your data. The moment you open the file they sent you, it installs a Trojan horse malware on your device. Once that happens, cybercriminals can spy on you, take your data, or gain backdoor access to your system.
Trojans are classified based on the type of actions they can perform on your device. Some of the most common among them are:
- Backdoor - Gives someone else remote control over the infected device. They can use it to do anything they want from deleting files to rebooting the computer. Most often, internet wrongdoers use remote access Trojans to unite a group of devices and create a botnet network.
- Exploit - This type of Trojan malware has codes that can take advantage of any vulnerability they locate in your computer.
- Rootkit - Rootkits can conceal data and activity in your system. They do so to remain undetected and run on the device longer.
- Trojan-Banker - Some malware is designed specifically to help someone else gain access to account data you use for internet banking and e-payment systems. This type is often called Trojan-Banker.
- Trojan-DDoS - Trojan-DDoS malware sends multiple requests from your computer to another address in an attempt to deny that device of service.
Malware, however, isn’t the only type of security threats.
There are also viruses.
Almost all PC users have heard of computer viruses. Just like with Trojans, a user has to execute a virus in order for it to work. Once that happens, it starts spreading and causing damage to the device.
There’s an entire list of things viruses can do once they make a home out of your computer. Some of the most common actions they take include corrupting data, reformatting hard disks, and shutting down the system. Some types of computer viruses can even steal data and money.
Luckily, pure viruses are no longer as common as they used to be, comprising less than 10% of all malware out there. This is good news, since viruses are the only type that spreads onto other files and can sometimes be very difficult to clean up.
Worms are another sort of malware that can seriously infect your computer. These things have been around even longer than viruses, and they were one of the biggest threats in the 1990s. Sometimes, an employee would just open a wormed email and all computers in the company would become infected.
The distinctive feature of worm malware is that it’s self-replicating. It can generate so many clones that it becomes impossible for the device to keep operating. Just look at the ILOVEYOU one that infected over 10 million personal computers in 2000. It overloaded everything from the entire phone system to television networks.
What makes them so devastating is the fact that, unlike viruses and Trojans, worms don’t need the user to execute them. Instead, they exploit other files and programs within the device and get them to do all the dirty work for them.
As the name suggests, this type of malware can encrypt your data, hold it hostage, and ask for a ransom. One of the newer threats on the internet, ransomware has been a real issue in the last few years. Those who specialize in computer hacking can now require payments in cryptocurrency to give you your data back. Quite often, ransomware cripples entire business, organizations, police departments, hospitals, and even entire cities.
It’s common for these programs to arrive as Trojans. Once executed, some types of ransomware can take hold of all important files they find in a matter of minutes.
In recent years, however, some malware admins take a so-called “wait-and-see” approach. They observe what the user is doing for a few hours before taking their data hostage. This gives them a chance to figure out what data the user needs the most and how much ransom they can afford. They can also check if there are any backups of the data they want to hijack.
This type of security threat lets someone else monitor and record each keystroke you make. Just imagine having a hidden surveillance camera in your computer that keeps track of what’s going on all the time. This means a keylogger can give the malware admin all of your passwords and other confidential information.
The worst part of it is that keyloggers arrive just like all other malware. They’re often very difficult to discover, especially when you don’t know what you’re looking for. A keylogger may even be designed to only trigger when you perform a certain action. For example, it can only start recording your keystrokes once you’re browsing the web or managing your bank account.
It can also attack smartphones and gather information based on what you tap on your screen. The invader can then extract sensitive data such as your login credentials and credit card information.
Spyware is relatively different from other malware out there. Often, it’s not a cybercriminal who’s behind it but a person wanting to check on their loved ones’ computer activity. Of course, in some targeted attacks, hackers also use spyware to steal passwords and intellectual property. Sometimes, its purpose is to help the malware admin sell your internet usage data.
With cyber spying, the threat is relatively big considering your privacy is at stake. However, spyware is easy to remove, especially compared to viruses and Trojans. Depending on the type of spyware you’re dealing with, it may just be enough to find the malicious executable and prevent it from being executed.
The bigger concern than the actual spyware is the mechanism behind it. Usually, a data breach like this means that there's some sort of weakness in your system and you need to up your computer security a bit.
This type of malicious software is a bit strange. Sometimes, it’s an entirely safe business practice, but it can also be a highly manipulative malicious program. Adware can exist across all devices, and it displays unwanted advertisements that can hurt your computer.
If you notice your device is running slower than normal, it could be because adware is taking up a lot of memory space and slowing down the entire system. Due to the constant downloading of advertisements, it could slow down your internet connection as well.
Malvertising is often confused with adware, but those two types of malware aren’t the same. It’s all about using legitimate ads or ad networks to deliver malware to your computer.
So, how exactly does that work?
A cybercriminal pays for a real ad on a legitimate website. You click on it with the intention of finding more about it. The ad then redirects you to a malicious website. Sometimes, these websites will download malware automatically or they can require a certain action by the user to execute themselves.
Some hackers even compromise legitimate ads and ad networks in order to perform a malware attack. Their goal is, of course, to make money through malvertising. They can also do so by delivering other types of threats such as ransomware and banking Trojans.
What Is a Malware Attack and How To Stay Safe?
Now that you know what malware is, it’s time to what happens when malware admins decide to target your device.
So, what is a malware attack?
Basically, the term is used when people create malware and try to gain access to your personal information.
It’s important to point out that malware attacks can occur on all devices. Mobile malware invasions have become more and more common recently.
Also, they all have one thing in common - they’re created with an objective in mind. Whether it’s stealing data or disrupting the device, malware can be extremely costly to anyone who falls victim.
And although there are white hat hackers who look for potential threats, many businesses and organizations experience malware attacks just like home users.
The threat is growing at all times. For example, since 2018, there have been more and more ransomware attacks taking place.
So, how do you protect your device from cybercriminals?
There are no ways to entirely prevent these attacks. But what you can do is to detect and block them on time.
To do that, you need to rely on some of the most common strategies for keeping all common malware types at bay. They include:
- Installing antivirus software - This is the most important step to take if you want to deal with any potential computer crime schemes. A good antivirus can scan your computer, detect malware, and remove it from your device.
- Using firewall - Having a firewall on is one of the easiest ways to detect and block most of the known threats. It cuts off all unauthorized access both to and from your computer network. It’s the perfect extra anti-malware barrier next to antivirus software.
- Avoiding suspicious links - Phishing remains one of the easiest ways for hackers to install malware software on your computer. It’s wise to know how to spot phishing emails and avoid clicking on the links they include.
- Backing up your data - No matter how hard you try to protect it, there’s always a chance of malware corrupting or stealing your data. Backing up your data is vital. It mitigates any damage and ensures you don’t have to pay in case you become a victim of a ransomware attack.
- Updating your software - Updating your software regularly can do wonders for your computer, no matter what type of security threats you’re dealing with. Updates from the developer usually include security patches that can make your device immune to some of the threats.
- Utilizing a password manager - Get a reliable password manager an extra precaution you can take to stay safe from malware.
Cybercrime is growing. Many hackers rely on malware to help them access other people’s devices. Whether they do it to steal money or just for fun, doesn’t really matter to you.
No matter how much sensitive data you keep on your device, the last thing you want is to fall victim to a malicious attack.
Whether you browse the web occasionally or you download stuff every day, taking some precautions is necessary. From firewalls and antivirus software to keep backups of your data, there’s so much you can do to ensure malware doesn’t disrupt your computer.
Follow my guide and you should be fine.
Just keep in mind that new malware types are emerging at a very high rate. Being informed is the first step to being safe.
Which malware is most dangerous?
How do I detect malware?
How do I remove malware?
How dangerous is malware?
How malware is created?
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