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What is Malware and What Does it Do?

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The term malware is derived from two different words – malicious and software. It is a term used to collectively describe various types of software that is intended to cause damage to a system or obtain access to data without the knowledge of the user. It is a way to attack a system. Malware is a huge threat to computer networks as it has the potential to cause huge losses to the victim. What are the kinds of attacks that are possible with malware? Here is a list of the different types of malware.

What is Malware and What Does it Do

Types of Malware

1. Worms

Their name is derived from the way actual worms work. They start affecting one machine in a network and then work their way to the rest of the systems. In no time, an entire network of devices can be infected.

2. Ransomware

This is also known as scareware. As the name suggests, it is used to extort a ransom. Using ransomware, a whole network can be locked down and users can be locked out of the network. The effects will be reversed only when a ransom is paid by the affected party. Ransomware attacks have affected many large organizations

3. Trojans

A harmful program that is disguised as a legitimate piece of software. It creates backdoors to breach security. This opens up an entry point for other kinds of malware. The term is derived from history where Greek soldiers hid inside a large horse before they launched their attack.

4. Spyware

Spyware is a type of malware used to spy on a user’s activities on his/her system. The program hides within the system and collects sensitive information such as the user’s passwords and banking details without the user’s knowledge.

5. Virus

This is the most common type of malware. It is a piece of executable code that attaches itself to a clean program on a system. It waits for the user to execute the code. It alters the way your system functions in an undesirable manner. Viruses can even lock users out of their systems and corrupt the files on it. They are usually presented as an executable file. Therefore, you must be careful of what you download to your system and the credibility of the source.

6. Adware

Certain advertising software throws pop-ups on your screen which when clicked, may compromise on your security. They may not always be malicious. But if you are not careful, the adware can lead to other malware entering into your system.

7. Keylogger

This is a kind of malware specifically made to record the keystrokes on a keyboard. Through this, the attacker can gain confidential information such as credit card details and passwords.

8. Exploits

This kind of malware exploits the bugs in your system to gain entry. They usually piggyback on legitimate websites. You do not even have to click or download anything. Just visiting a safe website in an unsafe way will download malicious programs to your system.

9. Rootkit

Using a rootkit program, the attacker can give himself the administrator privileges on a system. The users of the system usually remain unaware of this because it is well-hidden from the operating system and other applications.

Symptoms of a system affected by malware

Looking at the long list of the types of software, any user would be willing to know what the ways are to detect if your system has been affected by any malware. And as a responsible user, you should be. There will be telltale signs if your system has been affected. Given below are the signs you should be looking for.

  • You are unable to update your antivirus software. This happens if the malware that attacked disabled your antivirus software so that it is no effect anymore.
  • If you see toolbars, extensions, and plugins on your browser that you have never seen before, it is a cause for concern.
  • Your browser is slow. The homepage of your browser changes automatically. Also, the links do not seem to work correctly. They take to you the wrong site. This usually happens if you click on the links in the pop-ups.
  • You notice an increase in internet activity from your system
  • You experience loss of disk space. This happens when there is malware hiding in your hard drive
  • There is a high usage of system resources in the background. The processor’s fan whirls at full speed.
  • Whether you are accessing the internet or just using local applications, you notice that the system has significantly slowed down.
  • You notice that your system crashes too frequently. You keep encountering a system freeze or the Blue Screen of Death (a sign of a fatal error in Windows systems)
  • You keep seeing too many pop-up ads on your screen. They usually come with unbelievably large prize money or other promises. Never click on pop-up ads, especially the ones with ‘Congratulations! You have won ……’

How does malware get into your system?

You are now well-versed with the signs that indicate there could be a malware attack on your system. If at all you see one or more of these signs, your first thought would be ‘how did this happen?’ You should be aware of how malware gets into a system so that you can minimize such incidents.

Remember that most types of malware depend on some kind of user action. Either you receive a suspicious email that requires you to download a .exe file or there is a link waiting for you to click on it. Malware does not spare mobile phones as well. The attackers have good knowledge of the vulnerabilities of different devices. They exploit these vulnerabilities to gain access.

The common ways in which malware get access is by email and internet. Whenever you are connected to the internet, your system is susceptible; more so if your device is not protected by anti-malware software. When you are online, the following activities could make it easy for malware to make its way into your system – downloading an attachment from a spam mail, downloading audio files that are infected, installing toolbars from an unknown provider, downloading/installing software from an unsafe source, etc…

When you try to download applications from a suspicious source, your system displays warning messages to keep you safe. Pay attention to these messages, especially if the application seeks permission to access your details.

The attackers try to target gullible users by using statements that seem to offer you something good. It could be faster internet, a hard drive cleaner, a better download manager, etc… Behind these offers lies the potentially malicious software ready to attack your system. Thus, when you download any application on your PC/laptop or even mobile phone, be sure to do so only from a trusted website.

We reiterate the fact that most of the time, malware can gain entry only through action by the user. One download from the wrong email or a single click on a wrong link and boom! Your system is under attack. Thus, it is important to not get lured by the ‘too good to be true’ offers, links, emails, and pop-up ads. Sometimes, you may download an application from a trusted source. But if it presents another application as essential and seeks permission to download it, beware! The extra software is known by the term – Potentially Unwanted Software (PUP) and is an unnecessary (and potentially harmful) component of the software.

The best way to keep such harmful programs away is to install good anti-malware software in your system.

How to stay safe?

Every internet user wants to stay safe. Nobody likes to be a victim of a malware attack. The result of such an attack can range from loss to sensitive data to handing over a huge ransom. Since the effects are quite scary, it is better to be safe than sorry. We discussed the various kinds of malware and how they can get into your system. Let us now see what precautions one should take, to stay safe while surfing the internet.

1. Browse responsibly

Some small, local websites have poor backend security. It is usually in these locations where malware can be found. To be on the safer side, always stick to well-known sites that have built a good reputation among internet users. An indicator of risky websites is, their domain names end with strange letters instead of the usual org, com, edu, etc…

2. Check what you are downloading

Downloads are the most common place where malicious programs hide. Always double-check what you are downloading and from where. If available, go through the reviews from past users to ascertain the credibility of the provider.

3. Install an ad-blocker

We have seen how adware can sometimes contain harmful software under the guise of a pop-up window. Since it is difficult to differentiate between the legitimate and harmful ones, it is a good idea to block all of them with a good ad-blocker. Even without an ad-blocker, you should not be clicking on the pup-ups no matter how good the offer looks.

Also Read: What is a Keyboard and How Does it Work?

4. Do not allow yourself to be gullible

Networking online can be as risky as it is fun. Do not fall for offers, links on spam emails, alerts, etc… which tempt you. If something looks like it is too good to be true, it is better to stay away from that.

  1. Pay attention to the early signs of malware. If you catch it early, you can avoid extensive damage. If not, one thing leads to another and you will soon find yourself in a deep pit where no fix seems to work.
  2. Your operating system, plugins, and browsers much be of the latest version. Keeping your software up to date is a way to keep attackers at bay.
  3. For Android mobile phone users, download your apps only from Google Play Store. Before downloading an app, check whether its reviews and ratings are reasonably good. The app should not seek permission to access details unrelated to the app. Beware of what permissions you grant. Avoid downloading apps from third-party sources. Do not click on the links that you get on Whatsapp or other messaging apps, without checking what it is about.

Getting rid of malware

Uncertainty is always a factor. Despite taking precautions, you may be a victim of a malware attack. How to get your system back to normal?

There are malware removal tools – both free and paid, available. If you have not yet installed an anti-malware program, install one right away. Then, run a scan. The scan will search for any problems on your device and the software will work towards eliminating any malware from your system.

After you have cleaned your device, change your passwords for all the accounts that you have, and use. Get rid of all of your old passwords.

Summary

  • Malware is a term used to describe malicious programs.
  • Attackers use various means to gain access to your system, without your knowledge.
  • This is dangerous as malware can give away your passwords, personal details, and other sensitive information. The attacker can then use this information against you.
  • The best way to avoid malware is to protect your system with anti-malware software that provides layered protection.
  • You should also keep in mind to not click on links or download attachments from unsolicited emails, browse on unsafe websites, or click on pop-up ads.
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Elon Decker

Elon is a tech writer at TechCult. He's been writing how-to guides for about 6 years now and has covered many topics. He loves to cover topics related to Windows, Android, and the latest tricks and tips.

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