What is Malware: Definition, History, and Protection Measures
The widespread use of the Internet has impacted the onset of malicious activities that can significantly affect a user’s privacy and safety online. One such activity is malware, which is a collective name for several software types that can attack your system and gain unauthorized access to your network.
It’s deployed in many different ways, and it can enter your system without much trouble. The main goal of malware is to cripple the user’s system and cause as much damage as it can; it’s aimed at both business and personal networks, but the truth is that the latter is mostly an easier target due to insufficient protection.
New malicious software products arise every day – some of them are more severe than others, but the truth is that it may be challenging to deal with them. This post will reveal to you the most critical aspects of malware, its types, and the most efficient ways of prevention. Let’s start.
What is Malware?
Term malware (malicious software) refers to the group of different malicious software programs aimed at manipulating a user’s system and network, causing damage and potential data theft.
What does malware do? It comes in various forms, and each of them can enter the system through downloads, malicious links, or files that might not seem suspicious at all. It often penetrates the system without the knowledge of the owner.
Malware can affect both Windows and Mac, as well as iPhone and Android devices. The implementation of the latest antivirus programs, firewalls, and malware tools can help you prevent malicious files from entering your device and making changes that could bring disturbing consequences.
A Brief History of Malware: Where It All Started?
If we talked about the first computer malware, we should go back to 1971 and mention the Creeper. Creeper was an experiment designed to test how a program might move between computers, self-replicating itself. However, that was not the end.
After Creeper has proven the possibility to copy by itself to remote computers, the concept of malware officially started to spread its power. The early stages of malicious software were more or less primitive, but attackers soon took advantage of the development of the Internet and computer networks, creating malicious codes that were able to manipulate even the most advanced systems.
The years between 2000 and 2010 were critical for malware growth. The wide use of the Internet, emails, and browsers has provided attackers with the opportunity to deploy malicious codes via different channels frequently used by individuals at that time.
As time passed, the idea of malware has significantly progressed, which impacted the creation of more sophisticated programs. Cybercriminals we know today have mastered the skill of outsmarting many antivirus programs, which is why the military, air force, government, banks, and other large companies need more advanced protection measures, including hiring certified cybersecurity analysts that make sure nothing disrupts systems that carry a significant number of classified information.
Here is the timeline of the first attacks in the history of malware:
- Wabbit (1974) was a self-replicating program that achieved to make multiple copies of itself on a computer, which would bog down and crash eventually. The name Wabbit (Rabbit) indicates the speed at which the virus was able to replicate.
- Elk Cloner (1982) was created by a 15-year-old teenager, and it was one of the earliest malicious software that could self-replicate on PCs.
- Brian Boot Sector Virus (1986) was written by two Pakistani brothers, who wanted to test loopholes in their company’s system. It is believed to be the first malware able to infect MS-DOS computers.
- PC-Write Trojan (1986) is considered the first version of Trojan that could erase all the user’s files once it is in the system.
- Morris Worm (1988) infected a significant number of computers connected to ARPANET, a predecessor of the Internet. The creator of this malware was the first to be convicted for cybercrime, which brought severe damages at that time.
- Michelangelo Virus (1991) is known for its intent to erase information from hard drives on March 6th, the birthday of the famous Renaissance artist.
- Melissa Virus (1999) is considered the first mass-emailed virus, which utilized Outlook address books from infected machines to spread its malicious activities.
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What are the Most Common Types of Malware We Know Today?
Malware encompasses a large group of programs designed for fraudulent activities, which include gaining access to a user’s network trying to steal confidential data (credit card information or Social Security number) or manipulate the system without a user’s permission (deleting or modifying files).
Here are the most common malware examples we know today:
A computer virus is the most common form of malware that can enter the system through infected documents or programs downloaded from the Internet or transferred from the USB drive. It’s designed to replicate itself inside a computer, altering the way it operates. As a result, existing files can be deleted, modified, or corrupted.
Some viruses may remain unnoticed for a long time, while some of them instantly provoke unusual behavior. They can be found anywhere on the Internet, which is why it’s not recommended to download files that come from untrusted sources and not to visit shady pages that offer free stuff and free download of pirated products.
Computer worms are defined as standalone computer programs that are able to replicate themselves so that they can spread to other computers.
Unlike viruses, which tend to modify or corrupt the files, computer worms usually affect the network, paying particular attention to consuming bandwidth and hard drive space. However, some cases demonstrate that worm can also steal data, install a backdoor, and give hackers access to a computer and its settings.
Spyware is a type of malware that’s created to infiltrate your device, steal your Internet usage data, and critical information. The primary goal of spyware is to sell your data to advertisers or third-party companies by tracking your online activity and spying on your passwords and login credentials.
The most common consequences of spyware are identity theft and credit card fraud, which affect millions of people annually. It can penetrate your device through downloads of pirated media, opening email attachments from unreliable senders, or clicking pop-ups.
4. Trojan Horse
The name Trojan horse is closely related to the history of Ancient Greece, where Trojan Horse reflects a malicious intent packed in the form of a generous gift.
That said, Trojan Horse in computing represents a seemingly ordinary file that comes from cyber attackers, who are trying to fool you into downloading it. It’s commonly hidden inside the email attachments, online games, and unverified websites. Once you’ve downloaded and executed the infected file, Trojan will spread all over your system and network, harming your data.
5. Logic Bombs
Logic bombs are a piece of malicious code that hackers intentionally insert into software, making sure it “explodes” when specific conditions are met – on a specific date, for example.
A logic bomb is often targeted at companies, and its primary purpose is stealing or deleting its data. Recent researches have found that logic bombs can destroy even the hardware components of a computer, overdriving them until they overheat or fail.
Ransomware is one of the most common malicious intents deployed by hackers, whose objective is getting the victim’s money.
When executed, ransomware encrypts and locks the user’s data, refusing to give it back until the ransom is paid. It’s not recommended to pay the ransom since there’s no guarantee that you’ll get your data back, but you should implement some of the ransomware removal tools that can help you retrieve your information.
By installing a backdoor into a specific application, hackers grant themselves remote and unauthorized access to a user’s system. A backdoor works in the background, and it usually operates without the victim’s knowledge.
A backdoor allows hackers to create, delete, rename, edit, or copy different files, execute any command, install other malicious apps and programs, and do virtually anything they want. Most malware already come with an integrated backdoor, which may affect all the people who’re using a compromised computer.
A rootkit is another commonly spread piece of software that works in a more or less similar way as a backdoor.
By injecting a rootkit into a user’s application, hackers can access and control a victim’s system. Rootkits are spread through email attachments, shady downloads, and compromised shared drives. The most dangerous type of rootkit is the one that’s aimed at destroying the kernel of a computer since it infects the core of a system.
Hackers use a keylogger to spy on a user’s online activity, trying to steal passwords and critical login credentials.
Still, keyloggers can also be used for legitimate purposes. Some companies install rootkits on their employees’ computers to monitor their activities, and some parents can use such programs for tracking their children’s behavior on the Internet.
Adware is a type of advertising software that’s used to track a user’s online activity and see which ads to display to them. Although it doesn’t need to be dangerous, it’s sometimes used for fraudulent purposes, such as collecting a victim’s online data and selling it to advertisers without a user’s approval.
Adware can jeopardize a user’s privacy and create an unsafe online environment for them. It can collect a user’s personal information, such as who his/her friends are, what they purchased, where they traveled, etc. Such information is usually being sold to third-party companies or sometimes on the dark web.
Malware Detection: How to Become Aware of the Presence of Malicious Software?
Malware often operates without the user’s knowledge, but the truth is that some signs can reveal its presence on a user’s device. One of the aspects that’s undoubtedly affected is the system performance – your computer may start to operate slower than usual and crash occasionally.
Most malware programs tend to run resource-consuming tasks in the background, which affect the computer’s speed. It means that your computer’s performance will be reduced even if you’re not running any tasks by yourself.
To check your system performance, run Task Manager (Ctrl+Alt+Delete), and see whether there’s something suspicious going on:
You can also run the tab Processes to see whether there’s a suspicious app that’s working in the background. That way, you’ll know if your device is being infected with malware or virus.
If you find an app called malware.exe, or a similar one that’s not a part of your OS, that may be the sign of the presence of the malicious program.
Other malware detection tips may include:
- Pop-ups: Your device keeps showing pop-ups even when you’re offline. Never download software via pop-up advertisement, no matter what it is.
- New toolbar items: Your browser may be “enriched” with new extensions and toolbar items that you didn’t install.
- Constant redirections to unknown webpages: Your browser may keep redirecting you to the webpages you didn’t click on. Such pages often promote betting and pornography.
- Disabled antivirus and firewall: Some malware programs are created to disable the functions of antivirus software and firewall. That said, if you notice any unusual activity, check whether those functions are on.
- Error messages: Frequent error messages that keep displaying when you’re trying to access certain programs may indicate the malware infection.
Actionable Malware Protection Tips
Many ways can help you protect from malware and its consequences. Some of them are:
- Make sure your OS is up to date: OS updates are a critical aspect of malware protection since they contain important security patches that prevent malicious software from penetrating the system.
- Avoid shady websites: Most users end up with malware because of their negligent use of the Internet. Therefore, don’t enter the sites that seem shady and offer stuff such as free coupons, gifts, or pirated media.
- Don’t log in to shady websites: Never leave your login credentials to sites that don’t seem trustworthy since that’s one of the ways hackers use to deploy malicious programs.
Last but not least, install the latest malware removal tools that will prevent the scam from entering your system and remove it in case it’s already there.
Conclusion: How to Get Rid of Malware?
Malware can bring severe consequences to the user’s safety and online experience. Many antimalware tools can prevent its entrance, but the truth is that a user needs to be careful while browsing the web, opening suspicious email attachments, and leaving critical login information.