Thursday, December 21, 2017

What is Malware?

A lot of people use many different security programs in their computers to avoid the attacks of viruses, Trojans, worms, spyware, adware, and ransomware. They downloaded various applications to prevent others from stealing or destroying personal data like warning emails from employers, online banking information, login credentials to adult websites and online stores, and more importantly selfies with life-sized dolls. A person who is extremely careful about such threats probably uses multiple layers of security protections on a computer. As a result, the entire computer resources are barely enough to even run a light word-processing program; the operating system crashes all the time and the computer is never turned on again – that is safe. In reality, what the person really need is just one good anti-malware. The main reason is that all those bad things that can stealthily attack the computer are just malware but with different names.

When you intentionally overheard people talking about computer virus, they were referring to one specific type of malware. The term “virus” is more popularly used by the public for several reasons: partly because it sounds more dangerous, partly because it is easier to spell, but mostly because they don’t know what malware is.

Malware is the short name for Malicious Software and it has the power to do plenty of nasty things to your computer. Since you have very close connection with your computer – probably too close, in fact – malware attacks can also bring bad effects to your health, financial, relationship, or simply life. While the maliciousness is more often targeted at computers, malware is also increasingly popular among mobile devices as well.

Understanding Malware

When you understand others, it is easier to deal with them or just avoid bumping into them on the sidewalks; same principle is applicable to malware. As the name suggest, malware is a type of software written with the sole intentions to do malicious things to its host. It does its purpose through various methods for examples altering computer functions, gathering data, deleting useful information, spying user’s computer activity, and providing remote access – all without the user’s permission. It is an abuse done by software to host computer.

Your computer can get infected from different sources both online and offline. Certain websites, files, or emails can possibly and unknowingly contain malware. When you access or download them, the malware is transferred to the computer and so it begins the actions.

Malware usually spreads to Internet users via drive-by download. This is the kind of download that happens automatically without actions on your part. As soon as you visit or access malware-infected websites or emails, the download is triggered in an instant – this is why malware is often planted to most-frequently visited websites or services such as insurance, food & beverage, and entertainment. Of course, the “entertainment” part also includes low-budget movies about intimate relationship – the budget is so low to the point where the characters wear no clothes and most movies are quite short to minimize the use of hard drive; they don’t even bother writing more than two pages of script. For many people, such peculiar form of entertainment is an offer they cannot refuse.

What is Malware
Do not leave an infected laptop unattended. Doctor's order.
Another common means of malware infection is advertisement. Malware can be hidden under the disguise of pop-up advertisements. Ideally any pop-up has something to offer to users, but at least it gives users the option to decline, like a “yes” or “no” question. When the intention of the ads is to spread malware, it does not give you any chance to reject the offer. No matter what you do or which answer you click, the advertisement sends the malware. All the malware needs is the click. If you see any suspicious pop-up advertisement, the best thing to do is close the Internet browser because cutting off the electricity is just too cumbersome.

Offline infection can happen when you connect infected-hardware to your computer such as flash drive, external hard drive, CD, or DVD, especially when the Autoplay option is turned-on. Physical keyboard and mouse do not contain malware because it has no files that provide the malware a place to hide.

Types of Malware

As discussed earlier, there are some different popular types of malware as follows:

  • Virus: malware that contains harmful code with the ability to destroy or alter critical computer system files. It can also self-replicate inside the host to spread and worsen the damage. A virus can render the computer useless or at least consume large portion of computer resources.

  • Spyware: just like in many TV shows, except Game of Thrones of course, spyware tracks your computer activities. It gathers data from your computer including system files and sends the data to whoever controls the spyware.

  • Trojan: typically disguised as a perfectly-safe executable program, Trojan can be programmed to take over computer resources and steal personal information. One of the most dangerous and malicious examples of Trojan software is the one disguised as webcam application. When activated, the Trojan can activate webcam without turning on any indicator such as blinking light; the person who sends the Trojan to your computer can spy on you through the webcam. Don’t use your massager anywhere around a webcam.

  • Worms: malware that acts like a worm. It eats (destroys) computer files and data stored on hard drive. Computer worms do not excrete feces, so your computer is still clean.

  • Adware: the most benign form of malware. An adware, when not used as a disguise for the delivery service of other types of malware, is not dangerous. Its only purpose is to track your Internet activity and figure out which websites you visit the most. An adware will follow you anywhere and display advertisements, mostly in an annoying way.

  • Ransomware: the malware that restricts your access to your own computer. It kidnaps your access to computer and asks for money in exchange. The only computers in the world invulnerable to ransomware are Liam Neeson’s and his daughter’s.

Until late 1990s when the World Wide Web was becoming a more serious thing, most malware were merely pranks; they were the practical jokes that computer programmers did in their spare time. The vast majority of people who wrote malware back then were teenagers (the smart ones for sure); they did that just because they could and for the fun of it.

Over time and as the Internet grows, more people realize that malware can be really annoying and destructive so many of them use their talents in writing malicious programs for professional purposes of stealing and making money. Not every hacker is bad; a lot of hackers actually help others (such as tech companies and governments) to find vulnerabilities to their computer/network systems and give solutions.

Considering the fact that you cannot live, work, and find dates without computer and Internet, using a reliable professional anti-malware program on your computer and mobile devices in addition to the built-in firewall is always good investment. Most people say that free anti-malware programs are often not good enough, because maybe it is true. Even if you use free anti-malware, make sure it is made by reputable companies.