We are all becoming much more aware of the potential dangers of the internet. Chief amongst most concerns is the sheer prevalence of malware. It can be tough for the uninitiated to keep up with malware, the different types, and all the different tools that can help you keep it at bay. Here, however, we are going to look at what malware is, what it does, and how to protect yourself from it.
What is Malware?
The word malware is a portmanteau of “malicious software.” If that term sounds like it’s a little indistinct, that is entirely the point. Rather than being a term for a specific kind of software, it’s blanket term. It covers any kind of software that was designed to do harm to you, the user, or your devices.
As a blanket term, malware covers a range of different types that each function in a different way. Here, we’re going to look at some of the most common types of malware:
Adware: This malware displays unwanted advertisements, even offline, that is often designed to lead the user to more malware by visiting certain sites or downloading software.
Bot: One of the more recently famous phenomena, bots attach themselves to your computer to start automatically carrying out tasks, from carrying out DDoS attacks on servers to posting spam through your online communication software.
Ransomware: Another famous and relevant kind, ransomware locks your computer down. You can’t access any data or programs until you follow the malware’s demands which are often monetary in nature.
Rootkit: This kind of malware infects some of the most fundamental parts of the computer. They allow others to have complete remote access to do what they please on your system, from running certain software and installing malware to stealing or modifying data.
Spyware: Malware designed to surveil users, stealing internet usage data, communications records, and even every single keystroke you make on your keyboard.
Trojan horse: A kind of malware that disguises itself as a more trustworthy piece of software.
Virus: Software that is capable of replicating itself and spreading to other systems from yours. Viruses often have the functions of other kinds of malware, as opposed to being a benign germ.
Worms: Worms are much like viruses, but even more automated. Viruses often require users to download a piece of software or visit certain websites. Worms spread automatically from system to system by infiltrating vulnerabilities in the network.
This list isn’t mean to be exhaustive or comprehensive. New kinds of malware are being developed every day. Some are created by hackers simply looking to test their skill, but others sell their software to shady companies and figures who have a very specific, criminal, ends to their means.
What does Malware do?
As there are many different kinds of malware, it should be no surprise that there are also many different aims to malware. As the name suggests, their intentions are always malicious, so there are no “good” kinds of malware out there. Some kinds of malware, for instance, serve onto the propagate and spread other kinds of malware, as is the case with a lot of adware.
Others, such as bots, rootkits, and viruses, aim to “recruit” your system as part of a botnet. They do this so that they can use websites and spread data from your system, covering the user’s tracks. Others do it, so they can contribute to DDoS attacks, a method of shutting down certain sites and servers.
Many kinds of malware offer a much more direct threat to you, the user, however. Ransomware and other malware render you unable to use your system. They will do this either by locking aware programs and data or by altering and deleting files on the computer. Sometimes, these deletions can hit some of the most important files on your computer, making it impossible use without a full memory wipe and reboot.
Data collection is another common thread between many different malware types. Sometimes, data will be stolen and sold to advertising or other digital service companies looking to learn more about their market. In many cases, however, this stolen data is used for purposes of identity theft. From setting up false accounts in your name to gaining access to financial information, identity theft can allow malicious users access to everything you have in the digital world.
How to protect yourself from Malware
A huge and varied as the risk of malware can be, you should always ensure that you are taking steps to protect yourself from it. By avoiding unknown links, attachments, and unverified software you can reduce your risk of downloading malware. However, that is not a foolproof method of protection. Trustworthy sites can be infected without knowing it and malware like worms can spread to your system without any inciting action on your end.
The right software is crucial to keeping your computer protected. For one, make sure you are always updating software like operating systems and suites like Microsoft Office. These updates tackle the bugs that can be used and exploited by hackers and malware producers.
No digital security plan is complete without malware protection software, however. Most PCs and Macs already come with pre-installed firewalls, which act as a gatekeeper for the computer. For the identification and removal of malware, scanning software such as AVG and McAfee are your best bet.
While scanning and removal is often included for free within many anti-malware tools, you might need to pay a little extra for the further protection you truly need. Norton, for instance, provides an antivirus for free, but the protection from spyware, ransomware, and more sophisticated threats may cost you.
Premium editions of tools like Avast also contain features that scan the computer for security gaps, like outdated software and alert you to them so you can minimize your risk of being infected by malware down the line.
When left to rampage unchecked, malware can cause extreme levels of damage to your computer as well as your personal life. From hardware failures to identity theft, the stakes are too high to leave your computer unprotected so keep looking through the site to find the right anti-malware packages for you.