Different types of malware and how you could be impacted
Ever had your system crash on you, or seen your computer slow to a crawl? Or maybe your machine is behaving strangely and showing you bizarre icons or files. For all you know, it could have been caused by a rogue email attachment that you unwittingly downloaded.
When a virus or malware attacks your system, it is common to experience issues with its functioning. To prevent such situations, it’s helpful to understand the difference between various cyber threats.
What is malware?
Malware is simply an abbreviation of malicious software. Any program designed to access and steal user data, disrupt or cause harm to the host (user’s computer or application), or perform an illegitimate action on the host, data, or network is termed as malware. It can attack a system as an extension of a file or even through vulnerable points of your operating system or browser. Most often, a malware is installed with just one careless click by the user.
Types of malware
While malware is a general term, there are different types that use specific techniques to steal sensitive information from your computer. Here are the most common types of malware:
- Virus: Just like a biological virus, a computer virus is capable of replicating itself to multiply across a system. They spread through script files and documents, or by attaching themselves to different executable programs.
- Adware: Adware is short for advertising-supported software. It is a type of malware that generates revenue for advertisers by throwing up those annoying popup ads when you visit certain websites.
- Ransomware: This malicious software uses a technique called cryptoviral extortion. The victim is threatened with making their personal information public, or by blocking access unless a ransom is paid.
- Trojan: The name comes from Greek mythology, where soldiers from Troy hid in a large wooden horse that was gifted to an unsuspecting enemy. Trojan malware works on the same sneaky principle. A trojan disguises itself as a standard file or software, but once it gets embedded in the system, it can allow the hacker to install more malware, steal data, and even monitor user activity.
- Worms: Much like a virus, a worm spreads by creating functional copies of itself. However, it’s a standalone software that does not require a host program or human help to proliferate. Worms spread across a computer network and infect computers; viruses infect files on a computer.
- Man-in-the-middle: While this is not a kind of malware, it is an eavesdropping attack where the attacker stealthily relays and possibly recasts the information with alterations. Say, in case of a communication between two parties who have no knowledge about the existence of this malicious middleman. The man-in-the-middle could intercept the data sent between your web browser and the service or website being accessed, to steal sensitive information such as logins and passwords.
Symptoms of a malware attack
While different types of malware have different ways of propagation and attack, there are some common symptoms that hint at malware infestation:
- Network connection problems
- Unauthorised deletion or modification of files
- Slow performance of the system
- Appearance of bizarre icons or files
- Freezing or crashing of the system
- Email being sent automatically without knowledge of the user
Precautions against malware attacks
No one enjoys working on a compromised system; we want our devices to be fast and free of malware infection. Here’s what you should keep in mind to be safe from these attacks:
- Always update your operating system and software regularly; companies often release vulnerability patches to remove security flaws in previous versions of the application.
- Avoid downloading files or documents from unfamiliar sources as they might have some encrypted virus or other malware.
- Never click on random links received from unknown sources via email.
- Conduct regular security scans of cloud service, microservice, and other application systems.
- Employ network segmentation as it would be an aid to lessen outbreak exposure.
- Most importantly, install and run a firewall and anti-malware software on your system to detect and quarantine any malware.
While the internet has made our life so much easier, it is also fertile ground for unscrupulous hackers whose aim is to damage property and steal confidential information. It is, therefore, important to be vigilant when you surf the internet, install third-party software, or open an email attachment. After all, none of us want an unnecessary interruption in our work or personal life!
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* The information provided in this article is generic in nature and for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for specific advice in your own circumstances.