Malware | What Is Malware?

Malware is the short form of Malicious Software, which refers to a group of dangerous software that engages in activities that are hostile and intrusive. It is used to commit cyber crimes, to harm large networks as part of terrorist acts, or just to cause general havoc. Malware can be forced on users aggressively, or users can be tricked into downloading and installing them, or they can automatically propagate throughout every computer they come into contact with. Therefore malware has become one of the most prevalent threats to computer security.

Types of Malware

Malware broadly describes a large group of software. These can be categorized into the following groups:

•    Viruses – Viruses are malicious software that are designed to self-replicate and automatically propagate to every computer or device that they come into contact with, and to perform various other harmful tasks such as deleting/corrupting files, using up memory and hard disk space or taking control of the computer. These are the most widespread type of malware and have been around for the longest time as well.

•    Worms – Worms utilize security loopholes in computer systems and breach them. Then they enter the computer and perform their malicious activities while replicating themselves rapidly. Worms completely destroy the security of a system, and then head out throughout whatever the network the computer is connected to, infecting all other computer connected to that network. The same process is carried out at every host the worm infects, ensuring extremely rapid propagation of the worm throughout cyberspace. 

•    Spyware – Spyware is malicious software aimed at compromising the user’s privacy. These programs install themselves unobtrusively, mostly piggybacking on legitimate software applications. They gather information about the user’s activities such as keystrokes and web browsing habits and report them back to the developer of the spyware application. Some spyware may also download and install other malicious software programs as well.

•    Rootkits – Rootkits are a type of malicious program that is meant to provide backdoor access to those who attack computer systems. The rootkit must be installed manually by the attacker by obtaining access to the administrative account of the computer and this is normally done by using social engineering methods. Once the rootkit has been installed (it replaces some system files), the attacker can access the super administrator account of the system via a remote location. Rootkits are also used to effectively hide the installation of other malicious software such as viruses and spyware.
•    Trojans – Trojans, though considered as a type of virus, cannot be included in that category as Trojans do not have the ability to self-replicate. They use the method of tricking users into believing that it is a useful program (hence its name, like the fabled ‘Trojan horse’ from Greek mythology) to get themselves installed on the system. Once installed, the Trojan will download and install other malicious software such as viruses and spyware.

•    Rogue security software – This is one of the most notorious types of malicious software as they pretend to be anti-malware, but actually are a type of malware. These programs get installed using various social engineering methods and via Trojans. Once installed, they will pretend to perform system scans and report that the system is heavily infected. However, there is no true infection. The aim of all this is to get the user to purchase a ‘full’ version of the rogue security software in order to ‘properly’ clean the system. As these are fake applications, none of their versions are capable of scanning or cleaning any system, however.

There are many anti-malware applications available that can respond to specific malware threats. These provide scanners for viruses, spyware, Trojans, worms and rootkits and block their entry to the system at all times. If, by chance, a malicious program enters the system, anti-malware applications have built-in scanners that can root out the malware and effectively remove it. The best way to protect your system from malware is to install a reputed anti-malware application and keep it updated with the latest malicious software definitions.

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