Every software we use consists of instructions in the form of computer codes that dictate how computers behave or perform certain tasks. But not all software is designed to make our lives easier. Malware, a portmanteau of the words malicious and software, is specifically designed to help hackers gain access to, steal information from, or damage a computer. Oftentimes, all this happens without the knowledge of the computer user themselves. Until it’s too late, that is.
Malware is something that you do not want on your computer systems. So, the million-dollar question is, how can we ensure that they do not infiltrate our devices? The first step is always knowledge. To prevent something from happening, we must first understand why and how it happens beginning with an overview of the 7 most common types of malware.
Cybersecurity experts categorise malware based on how they attack computer systems and formulate countermeasures to defend against those attacks.
Malware #1: Virus
Viruses are perhaps the most common form of malware, so much so that the two terms are often wrongfully interchanged. Just like biological viruses that attack human organs, computer viruses wreak havoc on files that they interact with. The most common effects include the following:
- Consuming CPU processing time
- Corrupting data
- Occupying hard disk space
- Rendering computer systems unusable
True to its namesake, computer viruses often replicate themselves to infiltrate more files and increase the scope of their attack. It’s therefore not uncommon for users to gradually lose control and functionality within their devices and systems as a virus proliferates. Users typically only notice the viral infection after it reaches a severe stage, which of course is when containing the threat becomes a lot more difficult.
Malware #2: Worm
Worms are malware that is designed to spread to as many machines as possible, especially ones that are connected via the same networks. While they do not directly damage files as viruses do, they can affect network traffic if left unchecked.
Besides being self-replicating, worms can be used by their engineers to launch large-scale cyber attacks
on clusters of PCs. Through their network infiltration capabilities, worms can be combined with viruses, spyware, adware, or even ransomware to create potent malware concoctions.
Malware #3: Trojan Horse
Unlike viruses that operate a lot more discreetly, Trojan horses cleverly disguise themselves by hiding in plain sight. Just like how the Greeks used a giant wooden horse to gain access into the city of Troy, Trojan horse malware often masquerades as legitimate applications while damaging your systems in the background.
The good thing is that Trojan malware does not usually replicate or infect other files after delivering its payload. Instead, Trojan malware often forms backdoor exploits that allow other types of malware to enter a user’s system. This means that even after Trojan malware is removed, other more stealthy programs such as spyware and adware could still be lurking in the background. They are so effective that they’ve become the choice primer weapon for hackers looking to launch ransomware attacks.
Malware #4: Rootkit
Rootkits operate similarly to Trojans by introducing backdoors in computer systems for more malware to enter. Many consider rootkits to be the more dangerous of the two, as most versions embed themselves deep into user systems, and some of the most difficult to detect and remove
Some are hidden so far inside systems that they can even survive complete wipes or reformattings. The harm does not stop there, either. As much as rootkits are masters of disguise, they are also equally effective at covering the tracks of harmful malware that they introduce.
Malware #5: Spyware
An increasing number of cyber attackers are directing their attention towards stealing organisational or personal information which they can later exploit, rather than causing direct harm to devices or systems. Stolen information is often sold for profit, or used to blackmail victims for extortion. Spyware has even been used by governments
in the interest of national security.
Common pieces of data that spyware manipulators target include:
- Browsing History
- Credit card numbers
Spyware is typically designed to avoid detection for as long as possible so that its users can extract information out of their victims for all that they’re worth. That said, there are reported causes of spyware hampering PC performance. This is usually attributed to the addition of several types of spyware that capture different types of data.
Malware #6: Adware
Like spyware, adware works subtly behind the scenes to avoid detection by its victims. But rather than selling exploitable data, adware exposes victims to advertisements as dictated by the adware engineers.
Adware exposes the user to advertisers who have either made the adware himself/herself or the engineer that was sponsored by advertisers. This is often done by hijacking the user’s browser
so that ads from specific advertisers show up while they are browsing.
There is some overlap between adware and legitimate software used by marketers. The main difference lies in whether or not victims are aware of the ad software being used, and if the ads themselves can be avoided or switched off at their will. For this reason, some security software may not be capable of recognising adware as legitimate threats.
Malware #7: Ransomware
Ransomware takes a much more direct approach to cyber attacks by arresting data so that its engineers can demand compensation from the victims. Ransomware is often introduced into systems via inconspicuous email attachments or through the payload of other types of malware.
Once ransomware makes it past a system’s first defences and begins running, it will embed itself deep within internal files while gradually removing owner access to them. Lower-level ransomware will simply keep users out via a lock screen. The more sinister versions encrypt user files to render them unusable. The ransomware author is typically the only person who has access to the decryption key.
Encrypted files are usually essential to an organisation’s operations. Users are therefore forced to pay monetary compensation to restore access. While victims are typically advised not to adhere to the attacker’s demands, some are left with no choice.
While recovery from malware attacks is not unheard of, it is generally a better idea to keep them out in the first place. To do that requires education, an antivirus, effective application control, encryption, and most importantly - regular updates!
Educate your employees about cybersecurity awareness
Awareness about malware and cybersecurity is no longer optional. Knowing more about the popular types of malware, and the impact they can have will help users keep their devices safe.
Install anti-virus and anti-malware software
Having preventive measures in place is critical. An excellent place to start would be to install antivirus software which will give you protection against known malware. There’s no excuse because many of these are free!
Use endpoint protection software
Having an antivirus alone, however, is by no means a silver bullet
. For full protection, it’s important to add an effective solution such as application control
to protect your devices from both known and unknown threats.
Protect data in motion with encryption
The other problem is data security. What a lot of people don’t realise is that many off-the-shelf encryption solutions don’t protect data in motion, or in use. They only protect data when it’s at rest.
The SecureAge Security Suite
is PKI-based file encryption which means your data is protected wherever it goes. The best part is, there’s no need to retrain your employees because this solution operates silently in the background, just like your wifi. That means your employees can work as they wish without any disruption to their regular workflows.
Keep anti-virus software updated
However, deploying antivirus software and then not updating it just defeats the point. If you’re not using AI-powered application control that can protect you from unknown threats, it's important to constantly update your antivirus software because new malware is released daily.
The inconvenient truth is that antivirus software alone is not enough. Since the majority of virulent threats are packed into programs, effectively blocking them from running is the only way to keep your endpoints safe. CatchPulse Pro
is an endpoint protection platform with an intuitive AI-powered application control that gives enterprise users complete malware protection. It includes application allow-listing and deny-listing functions, can be managed by a centralised dashboard and is compatible with Windows 7 and above. For anyone deeply attached to their anti-virus, CatchPulse Pro can run alongside other antivirus software and anti-malware programs.
Our clients love CatchPulse Pro because it deploys various cloud antivirus scanners to protect and inform without interfering with existing systems or employee processes.
But what our client’s IT experts and engineers like it best for is how it makes application control much more manageable and highly customisable. CatchPulse security policies allow them to easily tailor-fit protection for various groups within an organisation from the comfort of a centralised dashboard that can be deployed online or on-premise. Start your free CatchPulse Pro trial
now to see how it gives your organisation complete protection. With the trial, you can create and deploy customised security policies and monitor and receive alerts across endpoints.