What is Malware and How Can I Keep Myself Safe?

August 16, 2021

What is Malware and How Can I Keep Myself Safe?

What is Malware?

Malware is a general term used to describe all forms of malicious software that is designed to cause harm or exploit devices and networks. Malware is used by cybercriminals to either cause damage to systems or gain unauthorized access to sensitive data. Cyber hackers will use the data they extra to leverage over victims for financial gain. For example, a hacker can use malware in order to gain access to an individual’s sensitive financial information, like their credit card data. Beyond gaining access to personal information, cybercriminals can also use malware to infect computers and use them to launch attacks on other networks and gain control of other computers. 

Why Do Cybercriminals Use Malware?

The most common reason for using malware is to steal or gain access to private data and other confidential information. This allows cybercriminals to make financial gains by either selling this data, extorting or ransoming it back to the individual. However, beyond this, there are also many other reasons someone may use malware. Many governments or law enforcement authorities employ spyware to help with espionage against individuals and other regimes. Alternatively sometimes the goal of the attackers is to simply cause as much damage to other organizations as possible, compromising data by deleting files or wiping down records can lead to firms shutting down as well as millions of dollars in damages. 

Malware takes many different forms and it is important to be aware of each form in order to understand how to protect yourself. Some examples of where malware can be found are in email attachments, malicious advertisements, fake software installations, infected apps, phishing emails or text messages. Malware can often spread quickly and without the user’s knowledge - for example, an individual can mistakenly clicked a malicious link that downloads malware onto their software. 

Types of Malware

1. Ransomware

Ransomware is one of the most common forms of malware. It occurs when cybercriminals target individuals or businesses, they gain access to private information and hold it hostage until the victim can pay a ransom fee. Not only is ransomware common, but it is incredibly simple for cybercriminals to execute, often a malware software infects the victim’s systems and encrypts their files. Horrifyingly, nearly 40% of victims who pay their ransom never actually regain access to their data and around 73% of those that do pay the ransom are targeted again later. 

Read our blog post here to learn more about ransomware.

2. Scareware

Scareware occurs when cybercriminals scare their victims into believing that their systems have been infected in order to get them to purchase a fake application. Often scareware scams will have ads that say things like “Warning: Your computer is infected!” or “You have a virus!”. These are all fear tactics employed by cybercriminals to get individuals to purchase their fake applications.

3. Viruses

A virus can be a part of a different malware campaign or attack. It refers to the part of the malware that actually performs a malicious act that compromises the device. Often viruses are found in infected attachments and files. 

4. Trojans

Named after the famous Trojan horse, Trojans are tricky applications. This type of malware masquerades as a harmless application for users to download and use. Once they are downloaded, these applications can steal personal data, spy on their users and even crash devices.

5. Spyware

Spyware is exactly what it sounds like. It is a program that is installed or placed onto an application that captures and transmits personal information (often without the victim’s knowledge). Interested in reading more about spyware? Check out our blog post on Pegasus spyware and learn more about its uses by governments internationally. 


6. Worms

Computer worms can replicate themselves and spread copies of themselves to different devices. These worms are transmitted through software vulnerabilities and can infect devices. Worms can modify or delete files in addition to injecting more malicious software onto a device. They can also steal data, install backdoors and give cybercriminals access to your devices and systems. 

7. Malvertising

Malvertising, which stands for “malicious software advertising”, is when cybercriminals use online advertisements to spread malware. Typically, malware is hidden within seemingly legitimate webpages or networks. Malvertising can affect users in several ways after they view an infected webpage; there may be an installation of malware or adware onto the users’ computer, the user may be redirected to a malicious site or unwanted or malicious advertising may pop up onto the users’ desktop. 

Read our blog post about malvertising found on Google here.

How to Know if You Have Been Infected

Common signs that indicate if your computer has been compromised by malware include:

  • Slowed computer performance
  • Browser redirects to sites you did not click on
  • Frequent pop ups
  • Issues with shutting down or starting your computer
  • Frequent crashes and freezing on your device
  • Deleted or corrupted files
  • Unfamiliar apps or programs being downloaded onto your device 
  • Your contacts receiving strange messages from you

How Can I Protect Myself?

Keep Your Devices Updated

Ensuring that your systems are updated will help protect them from vulnerabilities in their software. Cybercriminals will take advantage of vulnerabilities in old software to hack or attack systems. 

Be Mindful Online

Being aware of suspicious links or attachments is part of good cybersecurity. It is important to consider what you are clicking on and whether the link is legitimate or not. Furthermore, it is important that you stay alert for scams that ask you to fill out personal information. Finally, make sure that all the applications you download are from reputable companies.

It can be helpful to use a mobile security service to help you filter out malicious attachments and files. Check out CyberUnit’s mobile security here today.

Keep Your Devices Protected

The best way to keep your devices protected is to implement a security system to protect your devices. Here at CyberUnit we offer all types of protection, from mobile to computer protection plans. We offer customized security plans for individuals and businesses, at a price that’s right for you. We can also help you to check if your devices have been compromised. Contact us today to learn more.

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