Cybersecurity - Malware
Malware is a hostile, intrusive, and intentionally nasty, malware seeks to invade, damage, or disable computers, computer systems, networks, tablets, and mobile devices, often by taking partial control over a device’s operations. Like the human flu, it interferes with normal functioning. It can steal, encrypt, or delete your data, alter or hijack core computer functions, and spy on your computer activity without your knowledge or permission.
Signs of Malware
- Your computer slows down. One of malware’s side effects is to reduce the speed of your operating system (OS), whether you’re navigating the Internet or just using your local applications, usage of your system’s resources appears abnormally high. You might even notice your computer’s fan whirring away at full speed—a good indicator that something is taking up system resources in the background.
- Your screen is inundated with annoying ads. Unexpected pop-up ads are a typical sign of a malware infection. They’re especially associated with a form of malware known as adware. What’s more, pop-ups usually come packaged with other hidden malware threats. So if you see something akin to “CONGRATULATIONS, YOU’VE WON A FREE PSYCHIC READING!” in a pop-up, don’t click on it.
- Your system crashes. This can come as a freeze or a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death), the latter occurs on Windows systems after encountering a fatal error.
- You notice a mysterious loss of disk space. This could be due to a bloated malware squatter, hiding in your hard drive aka bundleware.
- There’s a weird increase in your system’s Internet activity. Take Trojans for example. Once a Trojan lands on a target computer, the next thing it does is reach out to the attacker’s command and control server (C&C) to download a secondary infection, often ransomware. This could explain the spike in Internet activity.
- Your browser settings change. If you notice your homepage changed or you have new toolbars, extensions, or plugins installed, then you might have some sort of malware infection.
- Your antivirus product stops working and you cannot turn it back on, leaving you unprotected against the sneaky malware that disabled it.
- You lose access to your files or your entire computer. This is symptomatic of a ransomware infection. The hackers announce themselves by leaving a ransom note on your desktop or changing your desktop wallpaper itself in to a ransom note. In the note, the perpetrators typically inform you that your data has been encrypted and demand a ransom payment in exchange for decrypting your files.
Common Forms of Malware
- Virus is malware that attaches to another program and, when executed—usually inadvertently by the user—replicates itself by modifying other computer programs and infecting them with its own bits of code.
- Adware is unwanted software designed to throw advertisements up on your screen, most often within a web browser. Typically, it uses an underhanded method to either disguise itself as legitimate, or piggyback on another program to trick you into installing it on your PC, tablet, or mobile device.
- Rootkit is a form of malware that provides the attacker with administrator privileges on the infected system, also known as “root” access. Typically, it is also designed to stay hidden from the user, other software on the system, and the operating system itself.
- Spyware is malware that secretly observes the computer user’s activities without permission and reports it to the software’s author.
- Ransomware is a form of malware that locks you out of your device and/or encrypts your files, then forces you to pay a ransom to regain access. Ransomware has been called the cybercriminal’s weapon of choice because it demands a quick, profitable payment in hard-to-trace cryptocurrency. The code behind ransomware is easy to obtain through online criminal marketplaces and defending against it is very difficult. While ransomware attacks on individual consumers are down at the moment, attacks on businesses are up 365 percent for 2019. As an example, the Ryuk ransomware specifically targets high-profile organizations that are more likely to pay out large ransoms.
- A Trojan, or Trojan horse, is one of the most dangerous malware types. It usually represents itself as something useful in order to trick you. Once it’s on your system, the attackers behind the Trojan gain unauthorized access to the affected computer. From there, Trojans can be used to steal financial information or install other forms of malware, often ransomware.
- Remote Access Trojan (RAT) is a tool used by malware developers to gain full access and remote control on a user’s system, including mouse and keyboard control, file access, and network resource access. Instead of destroying files or stealing data, a RAT gives attackers full control of a desktop or mobile device so that they can silently browse applications and files and bypass common security such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and authentication controls.
- Worms are a type of malware similar to viruses. Like viruses, worms are self-replicating. The big difference is that worms can spread across systems on their own, whereas viruses need some sort of action from a user in order to initiate the infection.
- A keylogger is malware that records all the user’s keystrokes on the keyboard, typically storing the gathered information and sending it to the attacker, who is seeking sensitive information like usernames, passwords, or credit card details.
Protect Against Malware
- Pay attention to the domain and be wary if the site isn’t a top-level domain, i.e., com, mil, net, org, edu, or biz, to name a few.
- Use strong passwords with multi-factor authentication. A password manager can be a big help here.
- Avoid clicking on pop-up ads while browsing the Internet.
- Avoid opening email attachments from unknown senders.
- Do not click on strange, unverified links in emails, texts, and social media messages.
- Don’t download software from untrustworthy websites or peer-to-peer file transfer networks.
- Stick to official apps from Google Play and Apple’s App Store on Android, OSX, and iOS (and don’t jailbreak your phone). PC users should check the ratings and reviews before installing any software.
- Make sure your operating system, browsers, and plugins are patched and up to date.
- Delete any programs you don’t use anymore.
- Back up your data regularly. If your files become damaged, encrypted, or otherwise inaccessible, you’ll be covered.