What Is Malware, And What Does It Do?
Whenever we talk about internet security and data protection, we tend to throw the term ‘malware’ around a lot. If you’ve ever read one of our previous blogs, like the one on Ransomware, you might be ahead of the curve here, but many people are still confused about what malware is. Well, malware is the umbrella term for computer viruses, and it can come in many different forms to do lots of different things. This is the first in a 3 part series designed to help you understand what the different types of malware do, how you can spot them and what you can do to prevent them invading your computer.
The Types Of Malware
There are, quite literally, thousands of stains of malware out there, with more being written and released every single day. Each one has its own unique name, like Crimea, the latest mutation of ransomware, but they all fall into one of 11 distinct categories.
Adware: Adware is simultaneously the most lucrative and least dangerous type of malware out there, making it the most common and irritating type around. Adware does nothing more dangerous that display annoying ads on your screen all the time, which many people simply choose to live with instead of getting rid of it.
Spyware: Spyware is adware’s best friend, and one tends to go wherever the other does. Spyware hides in the background and tracks your internet activities and computer usage, sending the information back to the adware server so that it can display more attractive, relevant ads. Again, fairly harmless in its own right, but still a big invasion of privacy.
Virus: When people say they have a computer virus, they are usually talking about malware in general, but there is a specific type of malware called a virus. A virus is a contagious program and is easily spread between machines (hence the name). A virus is a single piece of code that searches your computer and attaches itself to another piece of software, replicating itself whenever that software is run. This can lead to significant performance issues, and whenever a file from that software is sent out, the virus goes with it to infect a new machine.
Trojan: Trojans, much like their namesake, are the most dangerous form of malware out there. These programs are written with only one purpose in mind – to discover and steal financial information, take over computer systems or resources, or create ‘denial of service’ attacks in larger environments. Trojans need to be detected early and removed right away, or else you risk losing a lot of information.
Worm: A worm is a common and inconvenient problem for many computer users. A malware worm is a very hungry program, which replicates itself and destroys the data and files on your computer and network. In essence, it eats everything it can find, until there is nothing left.
Backdoors: This malware pretty much does what it says on the tin – it opens up a secret, backdoor connection to your machine that will allow hackers and other malware direct access to your machine and network, without you knowing.
Rootkit: Rootkit malware is the most stubborn and difficult to get rid of once it’s there. It’s often likened to a burglar, waiting in your attic until you go out before letting their partner inside to steal all your stuff. Rootkit malware is designed to hide in the background and give other information gathering malware access to your machine.
Keyloggers: Keyloggers are most commonly used as a plot device in detective stories, but they are a very real thing. Once your machine is infected with a keylogger, every keystroke you make is sent back to the controlling hacker. This results in them being able to read everything you type – from emails to banking passwords.
Ransomware: Devious and very direct, we’ve talked a bit about ransomware before. It’s one of the few types of malware that announces its presence. Once you are infected, your screen will lock and display a message, telling you that your files have been locked and encrypted, and the only way to release them is by paying money. Even if you pay it (which you shouldn’t) there is no guarantee it won’t lock up again when you next boot up your computer. This type of malware has recently changed, so there is now a strain that threatens to publish your files to the internet, rather than locking them away.
Rogue Security Software: This type of malware is designed to trick its victims into downloading and trusting it. It masquerades as good, trustworthy security software to remove malware infections, when in fact it is malware itself. Often it will simply turn off your real anti-virus software, allowing all sorts of nasty malware to come flooding through.
Browser Hijacker: A browser hijacker does exactly that – it hijacks your internet browser and changes the way it works. Its main purpose if to redirect your browser away from natural search results and towards whatever the malware developer wants you to see. So it could send you to specific sites that will trick you into spending money, or it could make sure that all you see if infected sites that will in turn infect your computer. The aim is to make money from your surfing the web and track your online activities.
For more information about malware, or help removing it from your computers and setting up a protection system, get in touch with us today for your free consultation. And stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of this series in 2017. Have a great Christmas and fantastic New Year everyone!