Malware is the collective name for a number of malicious software variants, including viruses, ransomware and spyware. Shorthand for malicious software, malware typically consists of code developed by cyberattackers, designed to cause extensive damage to data and systems or to gain unauthorized access to a network. Malware is typically delivered in the form of a link or file over email and requires the user to click on the link or open the file to execute the malware.
Malware has actually been a threat to individuals and organizations since the early 1970s when the Creeper virus first appeared. Since then, the world has been under attack from hundreds of thousands of different malware variants, all with the intent of causing the most disruption and damage as possible.
What Can Malware Do?
Malware delivers its payload in a number of different ways. From demanding a ransom to stealing sensitive personal data, cybercriminals are becoming more and more sophisticated in their methods. The following is a list of some of the more common malware types and definitions.
Types of Malware:
Possibly the most common type of malware, viruses attach their malicious code to clean code and wait for an unsuspecting user or an automated process to execute them. Like a biological virus, they can spread quickly and widely, causing damage to the core functionality of systems, corrupting files and locking users out of their computers. They are usually contained within an executable file.
Worms get their name from the way they infect systems. Starting from one infected machine, they weave their way through the network, connecting to consecutive machines in order to continue the spread of infection. This type of malware can infect entire networks of devices very quickly.
Spyware, as its name suggests, is designed to spy on what a user is doing. Hiding in the background on a computer, this type of malware will collect information without the user knowing, such as credit card details, passwords and other sensitive information.
Just like Greek soldiers hid in a giant horse to deliver their attack, this type of malware hides within or disguises itself as legitimate software. Acting discretely, it will breach security by creating backdoors that give other malware variants easy access.
Also known as scareware, ransomware comes with a heavy price. Able to lockdown networks and lock out users until a ransom is paid, ransomware has targeted some of the biggest organizations in the world today — with expensive results.
How Does Malware Spread?
Each type of malware has its own unique way of causing havoc, and most rely on user action of some kind. Some strains are delivered over email via a link or executable file. Others are delivered via instant messaging or social media. Even mobile phones are vulnerable to attack. It is essential that organizations are aware of all vulnerabilities so they can lay down an effective line of defense.
How to Protect Against Malware
Now that you understand a little more about malware and the different flavors it comes in, let's talk about protection. There are actually two areas to consider where protection is concerned: protective tools and user vigilance. The first is often the easiest to implement, simply because you can often set and forget best-in-class protective software that manages and updates itself. Users, on the other hand, can be prone to temptation ("check out this cool website!") or easily led by other emotions such as fear ("install this antivirus software immediately"). Education is key to ensure users are aware of the risk of malware and what they can do to prevent an attack.
With good user policies in place and the right anti-malware solutions constantly monitoring the network, email, web requests and other activities that could put your organization at risk, malware stands less of a chance of delivering its payload. Forcepoint's Advanced Malware Detection offers best-in-class malware protection across multiple channels and is unmatched in security efficacy.