WHAT IS MALWARE?
Malware refers to any software designed to have a malicious purpose once deployed to a computer or network. Malware infection typically occurs without a user's knowledge, often because it camouflages itself as a different file type such as an image or PDF file.
This type of software can affect both desktop and mobile devices. It can serve various purposes, from stealing information to spying on keystrokes and even using a computer's hardware to mine cryptocurrency.
All viruses are malware, but not all malware is a virus. Computer viruses gained that moniker because one can replicate itself and infect other machines, just like how a medical virus can affect human beings it comes in contact with. Certain types of malware are very targeted and don't fall into the virus category. They aim to control the specific machine or network they are installed on to achieve some other objective. In some cases, malicious software can be exponentially more difficult to detect and eliminate as it may only operate in the background.
While there are several different forms of malware, all of them should be considered serious threats. Malware that shows you annoying pop-up ads or slows down your machine (often, this results from attackers mining hardware for cryptocurrency may be the least damaging. However, other examples of malware can still have dire long-term effects on your sensitive information and devices. The most severe malware threats are posed by software that silently monitors activity and logs keystrokes, potentially leading to stolen credit card info or, even worse, industrial espionage.
Malware is hugely prevalent. According to the AV Test Institute, there are over 1 billion malware programs installed around the world. Furthermore, among the most common types of malware, over 560,000 new pieces are detected daily.
The rate at which certain types of malware multiply makes them a potent foe for even the most seasoned IT professionals. The repeated successes of malware attacks mean there are no shortages of malicious actors ready to unleash them.
Most malware takes advantage of vulnerabilities in systems and applications to be effective. With computer, mobile, and smart connected device usage continuing to increase exponentially, cyber attackers have no shortage of options when it comes to infecting and compromising tech with malware.
What are the Different Types of Malware?
Malware types typically fall into two distinct categories: method of infection and purpose once active. Here are the most common types of malware:
Method of infection
One of the reasons why malware is so prevalent is that it has so many different delivery methods. In most cases, malware infection happens when the user mistakenly or carelessly opens a malicious executable file on their computer.
Purpose once active
How to Detect and Remove Malware
The very nature of malware depends on being hidden and challenging to remove. Malware is often discovered because of its symptoms, such as a suddenly slower computer, slower internet connection, disappearing files, ad pop-ups without a browser open, or, in extreme cases, a complete takeover of the machine.
If the malware attack is executed via email, carefully reading file extensions is the best way to detect malware. The impact of phishing emails can also be lessened by installing malware reporting extensions to email clients. That way, if a user mistakenly downloads malware, they can notify IT immediately.
Removing malware can be very difficult, but the following steps will make the process easier:
- Take the infected machine offline, both from the internet and any networks it might be a part of. This precaution will ensure that the malware doesn't spread and safeguard additional information from getting reported back to the hackers.
- Perform a scan with your antivirus software. In most cases, your antivirus will not only detect the malware but also take care of safely removing the software. You might need to do this step while in Windows Safe Mode if your initial scan didn't detect anything.
- If the computer still feels infected, clear temporary files through the Disk Cleanup tool while in Windows Safe Mode.
- Reach out to the cyber security community for advice and best practices, as others may have experience removing specific malware.
- Contact your antivirus solution provider as they may have additional tools or services to help you recover from a malware infection.
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To help protect sensitive information from cyber threats, you need a strong understanding of cyber security fundamentals, including common warning signs to detect and avoid threats.
How to Prevent Malware Infection
The best kind of malware protection is prevention. This ideal is achieved through software but primarily via implementing good cyber security guidelines for your users to prevent malware infections or reduce their impact:
1. Keep your antivirus up to date. This type of software is only as good as its database of malware signatures it can compare files to, so ensure you have automatic updates enabled. Also, keeping the virus engine updated to its latest version often goes a long way in keeping your organization's computers free of infection.
2. Only use legitimate software. A typical delivery method of malware is via compromised versions of popular software tools. Only allow software on company computers and servers based on a pre-approved list.
3. Put a mobile device policy in place. The most important rule is to forbid your users from connecting their mobile devices to their work machines in any way. Many forms of malware can be transmitted from mobile to desktop via a USB connection.
4. Identify external emails. Most popular email clients have a setting that displays an EXTERNAL tag next to emails from an external organization. This visual reminder is a great tool to ensure your users are extra vigilant with potential file downloads.
5. Keep systems and applications up to date. Operating systems and software should always be running the latest version to ensure all patches are installed.
6. Reduce administrative privileges. Users should not have administrative privileges for their workstations. This precaution helps prevent the accidental disablement of security controls or the installation of unwanted software.
7. Backup electronic data. The best protection against ransomware is a solid backup strategy with ransomware protection capabilities.
8. File sharing. Limit the locations and services users can use to download files. Free and public file sharing services may host malware disguised as other files.
9. Run regular phishing simulations. This type of exercise allows you to identify potential vulnerabilities before they may be exploited and is a great teaching opportunity for your users.
10. Awareness. Deliver information security awareness to all employees regularly to inform them on how to prevent malware infections and what to do in case they detect a compromised system.
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