What is Malware?
Malware is a term that refers to malicious software, aka a program or file, that presents harm to a computer. This term acts as an umbrella, encompassing spyware, viruses, and trojan horses. Each of these programs can lead to a variety of harmful results including data theft, the alteration of computing functions, deleting important data, and even the unauthorized monitoring of computer activity.
The term malware was first coined in 1990 by Yisrael Radai, a computer scientist and security researcher. Despite this term not being popularized until the rise of the internet in the 90’s, malware existed as far back as 1971. When looking at Malware and discussing exactly what it is, there are three crucial areas that need exploration: how malware operates, the varieties of malware that exist, and what the future holds for malware.
How Malware Operates
There is a range of methods that malware creators utilize to disseminate their malware and corrupt devices and networks alike. Malware can be downloaded via the internet, or dispatched through a USB or external hard drive device. Typically, malware is downloaded unexpectedly through what is known as a drive-by download.
This means that bad-natured programs can be downloaded to a user’s device without their knowledge, let alone approval. Sometimes this can occur when a user visits a pernicious website. Alternatively, malware can be downloaded without approval through what is known as a phishing attack. Phishing attacks are commonly camouflaged as a standard innocuous email with a malicious link or attachment.
In worst case scenarios, seasoned attackers use a command-and-control server. This server allows hackers to initiate communication with a system after it has been infected. The result is the loss and/or exposure of sensitive date or the loss of control over the device or server that has been compromised.
Varieties of Malware
Each variety of malware features a different set of attributes and behaviors. The most well-known type of malware is a virus. Much like the name represents, a virus is defined as a malicious program that can self-execute and spread its infection of an assortment of programs or files.
Another form of malware is the Trojan Horse, which is meant to present itself as a genuine program, but in reality is malicious in nature. Once a Trojan is mobilized by an unsuspecting user, it can carry out the mischievous task it was programmed to complete.
Up next in our assortment of malware is a worm, which can self-replicate without the use of a host program. This means that worms are disseminated without the help of a human or even a directive from the authors of the malware.
Last on our list of common malware varieties is spyware. Spyware is built to collect data, and observe users without their consent or understanding. There are many other forms that malware presents itself in, including ransomware, rootkit, adware, and remote access Trojan. These forms deserve equal attention regarding the potential harm they can inflict.
Being that each variety of malware has its own unique way of inflicting damage to devices and networks, each variety requires a specific method for removal. The first line of defense starts with the user, by avoiding any emails, links, or websites that seem suspicious. This isn’t where malware defense ends, however, as this will only be partially effective. The best way to remain protected or eliminate an infection is through the use of anti-malware software, aka antivirus software.
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