Recognize and Avoid 8 Common Types of Malware | Cybersecurity Basics

What is malware?

Malware, short for malicious software, is an umbrella term for vicious pieces of software used to steal data, compromise computer functions, or cause disruptions/ harm to computers, applications, or data.

There are many types of malware cybercriminals use in their arsenal, each with their own attack methodology. For instance, ransomware's ultimate goal is financial gain, while spyware's goal is to capture sensitive data or information.  Other examples could be the type of vulnerabilities the malware exploits — like SQL Injections used to force access and modify data, or how the malware replicates and spreads itself. When identifying and classifying malware, it is important to look at all these factors to ensure you are proactive in your protection against all of them.

On the rise, Malware is one of the biggest threats to your security

In 2021, 74% of organizations experienced malware activity since enterprises are a key target for cybercriminals. This number is up from 61% the previous year. In fact, cybercrime is up 600% during the COVID-19 pandemic and the increase in remote work.

Malware infections are at the highest level ever — with cybercriminals launching more and more sophisticated attacks on businesses.  In fact, attacks have become so sophisticated, 75% of companies infected with ransomware were running up-to-date endpoint protection.

Understanding malware is vital to your company's security so you can train your people to avoid attacks, create the right processes to prevent and respond to attacks, and deploy the right security tools.  With the average cost of a malware attack on a company being $2.4 million, it is more important than ever to be proactive in mitigating malware attacks.

Adware & Scams

Adware, short for advertising-supported software, is a type of malware that automatically uses advertising software to deliver unwanted promotions and pop-ups on websites, redirecting you to malicious websites. Malicious adware can collect data on you, redirect your web browser, and change your browser settings. They typically use browser vulnerabilities to target you and can sometimes be bundled with spyware, which makes it much more dangerous.

Bots & Botnets

A bot is a software application that performs automated tasks on command. Most bots are harmless and are used for practices like indexing search engines. However, attackers sometimes combine bots in large quantities to create a botnet. Botnets can form a network to launch attacks, such as millions of computers sending spam or DDoS attacks, to interrupt supply chains or steal sensitive information.

Ransomware

Criminals use ransomware to encrypt, deny, or restrict access to your files to demand cryptocurrency payment for access to be restored. Ransomware usually spreads like a worm, and can originate through a phishing scam or some other vulnerability in your network service.

Because it has generated so much money for cybercriminals — one insurance company reportedly paid $40 million after a ransomware attack — it has become a notable form of malware to be reported in the news. Still, it is likely even more goes unreported, as companies pay silently to avoid reputational damage.

Spam & Phishing

A social engineering attack sends fake emails or text messages that look authentic, but are designed to fraudulently acquire personal information. It can be exceptionally hard to identify and can fool even the most alert, especially when emails are compromised or phone numbers are spoofed that seem like they really come from an authentic source. The best way to prevent these attacks is training employees to recognize and always double check instructions before sending or entering sensitive information.

Spyware

Malware disguised to spy on your activity, harvest data and collect personal information like passwords, usernames, and website activity.

It is a common attack used by cybercriminals, often offering a freeware or shareware that offers something of value on the front end, while secretly running a convert mission in the background most users never notice, to collect sensitive information and spy on you. Often it installs additional types of malware onto your device to make additional changes to your settings that cause additional harm.

Trojan Horse

A malicious program that disguises or embeds itself as a legitimate looking file. It opens a backdoor to capture keystrokes to hijack sensitive data.

Unlike a worm, they need a host to work and cannot self-replicate. Once installed on a device, hackers use it to spy on your device, gain access to your network, use your device as part of a botnet, or delete/modify/capture data.

Typically they require some social engineering tactics to trick users into downloading and installing them on their system.

Virus

The most common type of malware, a virus is a piece of code loaded on your website or computer — without your knowledge — attaching itself to files or programs and rapidly spreading to other computers. They are usually sent via email attachments or internet downloads.

They can be particularly hard to remove because the malware operates within a legitimate program. That's why most antivirus programs quarantine or delete the infected file instead of removing the virus from the file.

Worms

Worms live in your computer’s memory and rely on security failures to spread to other computers across a network — quickly infecting large numbers of computers. They cause most harm by consuming bandwidth and overloading web servers.

Worms can be classified as a virus, but are different, as worms can spread and self-replicate independently. Viruses must be spread by human activity — like running an infected program or opening an infected file.

How can you prevent malware attacks?

With the proper training, implementing the correct processes, and deploying the best-for-you tools you can mitigate the risk of being attacked with malware.

Partner with Spearhead to ensure you are prepared to deal with malware and the cybercriminals trying to attack you. Schedule a free security consultation today and we'll make sure your people, processes, and tools are ready.