Distinguishing Common Types of Malware

Malware is short for “malicious software,” and is an umbrella term for any software designed to damage or take partial control over the operation of a computer, mobile device or computer network. Malware includes viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, ransomware, adware, and more.

Surely by now you’ve heard most of these terms and have been warned to protect yourself against them. However, not understanding the differences between these types of malware could make protecting yourself more difficult. Here’s a quick rundown of the most common types of malware and some easy ways to protect yourself from them:

Virus

Probably the most well-known type of malware, a virus is a piece of code that it capable of “infecting” a computer by copying itself from file to file. When these infected files (germs) are shared between computers, the virus then spreads to the new device (host).

The best way to protect yourself from viruses is to install a reliable antivirus program and be diligent about running the updates. Disable image previews and don’t click unknown links or attachments in email.

Worms

Similar to viruses, worms are capable of replicating themselves and spreading from computer to computer. However, unlike a virus that needs human assistance to spread (running a program, clicking an attachment, etc.) a worm is self-directed. The worm’s job is to infiltrate a device, replicate and send itself to other computers through the network or via mass emails sent using a host computer’s email contacts.

A worm itself is merely designed to spread as far and fast as possible. That said, many times the worm will also contain a malicious “payload;” a piece of code that causes damage by stealing data, deleting files, or creating “backdoors’ so that each infected computer can later be controlled by the hacker.

Do you remember the Morris Worm in 1988 that lead to the first US conviction under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act?  To protect yourself against worms, get a good antivirus program, keep it updated, and make sure your firewall is activated and working properly.

Trojans

You guessed it! Named after the subterfuge used by the Greeks in the Trojan War, a trojan horse virus disguises itself as a safe, innocent, or routine application in order to fool users into installing it. Once installed, the trojan attacks. This is usually done by installing a “backdoor” to your computer that the hacker can use to remote in and steal personal and/or financial information.

A trojan needs your permission to enter your system, so the best defense is to simply keep your gates closed. Don’t click unknown links, don’t open suspicious email attachments, keep your software up to date so that you’re getting the latest patches, and install and maintain a good antivirus program.

Spyware

The Mata Hari of malware, spyware is used to track your internet activities and collect information from you without you knowing. Typically installed via drive-by download , browser add-ons (toolbars or additional search boxes), clicking pop-ups, or piggybacked with other software installations, spyware runs secretly in the background and is notorious for slowing down your system.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your antivirus program is protecting you from spyware. Many of them do not guard against this type of malware. If your machine is sluggish and you suspect you’ve fallen victim to spyware, our engineers recommend Malwarebytes for cleaning it out.

Interested in learning more about malware and how you can protect your business? Give us a call at 616.776.0400.

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