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What is malware?


GETTING malware, such as a virus, on your computer can be a nightmare, and can cause all sorts of problems.

But there is all sorts of malicious software out there to be wary of – so what actually is malware, and what should you look out for?

There are all sorts of malicious software that can attack your computer and corrupt or steal your personal data

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There are all sorts of malicious software that can attack your computer and corrupt or steal your personal dataCredit: Getty Images – Getty

What is malware?

The term malware is short for malicious software, and it describes a range of programmes like viruses, trojans and worms.

These programmes are created and used by cyber-criminals to destroy, or allow hackers to access, other people’s computers or services.

It is the malicious intent behind the malware that makes the programmes a problem.

It is likely that most computers or systems will face malware infection at some point.

Malware can be very dangerous - and can be very costly to get rid of

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Malware can be very dangerous – and can be very costly to get rid ofCredit: Getty Images – Getty

How dangerous is malware?

Malware is potentially very dangerous – it has been used to steal banking information, bring hospitals to a standstill, and invade Government and nuclear systems.

In 2020, users were locked out of their Android devices by malware called Covidlock, which presented itself as information on the Coronavirus at the height of the pandemic.

They could only get back into their systems by paying $100 per device to hackers.

Another malware known as Zeus has been responsible for the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars since it was first identified in 2007.

Zeus works by copying keystrokes to discover passwords and other details.

Some malware works by copying people's keystrokes to discover their passwords and other important details

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Some malware works by copying people’s keystrokes to discover their passwords and other important detailsCredit: Getty Images – Getty

Zeus is introduced via spam emails and fake pop-up messages, and has been effective against Amazon and the Bank of America, among others.

The Iloveyou malware was a computer worm that infected over ten million personal Windows computers and created more than $15 billion worth of damage in the 2000s.

It was disguised as a love letter, and spread itself by emailing from the accounts of infected users.

And in May 2017, the Wannacry ransomware attack became known as one of the worst cyber attacks in history.

Wannacry caused estimated losses of $4 billion from 2017 to 2020, by demanding ransom payments made in Bitcoin cryptocurrency.

FedEx, Honda, Nissan and Renault were famously victims of this malware attack.

Malware attacks have been known to cost companies like Amazon billions of dollars worth of losses

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Malware attacks have been known to cost companies like Amazon billions of dollars worth of lossesCredit: Getty – Contributor

What can malware affect?

Malware can affect any programmable device, service or system.

There are different kinds of malware that can affect you in different ways.

  • Spyware literally does what the name says, spying on your behaviour and sending all kinds of data back to hackers – including passwords and bank details.
  • Keylogger is often used to find out people’s passwords, because it logs all the key strokes they make.
  • Rootkit works like a toolkit of software that gives a hacker the ability to control a computer or system remotely as an administrator would.
Delivery company FedEx lost $300million dollars in 2017 due to the Wannacry malware attack

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Delivery company FedEx lost $300million dollars in 2017 due to the Wannacry malware attackCredit: Getty Images – Getty
  • Adware forces your web-browser to redirect to adverts, which, if you click on them, often take you to more malware.
  • Ransomware is used to lock you out of your hard drive or computer system by encrypting it – then it demands payment in return for giving you the access key.
  • Scareware is a trick form of Ransomware, but unlike real Ransomware it can be disabled pretty easily by a user.
  • Cryptojacking is used by hackers to make your computer mine bitcoin for them – this can be done on your operating system, in the background, or as Java script in a browser window.
In 2017, the Wannacry ransomware attack demanded companies pay a ransom in Bitcoin cryptocurrency

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In 2017, the Wannacry ransomware attack demanded companies pay a ransom in Bitcoin cryptocurrencyCredit: Getty – Contributor
  • Malvertising is where hackers place adverts on legitimate and trusted platforms, but code in the advert actually directs the user to a malicious website or installs malware onto their computer.
  • Drive-by download is a specific type of malware in Malvertising which can be triggered without any action from the user.

What types of malware are there?

There are different types of malware that infect computer systems in different, specific ways.

1. Viruses

Viruses are one of the most common types of malware and spread very quickly.

Viruses are sections of computer code that cyber criminals insert within clean code in programmes.

When the programme is innocently activated they damage computers and corrupt files, and can insert themselves into other clean code.

Cyber-criminals and hackers use malware to destroy operating systems or steal personal data

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Cyber-criminals and hackers use malware to destroy operating systems or steal personal dataCredit: Getty – Contributor

2. Worms

Worms are standalone malware that reproduce themselves and spread from computer to computer.

They are able to spread very quickly, literally worming their way through the network.

3. Trojans

Trojans are programmes that are unable to reproduce themselves.

Users innocently allow them into their computers because the trojans appear to be something the user wants.

Once inside, the trojan enables other malware to enter the system or device.

Hackers can also manually install malware, accessing the computer in person, or remotely.

Spam email is the most common way malware enters the system - so be on the look out for any suspicious looking links or attachments in emails

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Spam email is the most common way malware enters the system – so be on the look out for any suspicious looking links or attachments in emailsCredit: Alamy

What can stop malware?

Vigilance is the first step in preventing malware.

Spam email is the most common way malware enters systems, so be on the look out for unusual links or attachments in emails.

Be sure to protect and monitor all your hardware and systems, and make regular backups of your files.

You can also use an antivirus programme, which, despite the name, can act on all forms of malware.

For larger systems, Network Monitoring Tools, can help identify malware through the communications between the malware and its controller.





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