What is malware?

With malware, hackers can do great damage to your computer and gain access to personal information that can be deleted or misused.

22-03-2022 - 6 minute read. Posted in: malware.

What is malware?

Through malware, cybercriminals can do great damage to your computer and gain access to personal information, health records, passwords and other information that you can risk being either deleted or misused.

Malware is a threat to your IT security

The word malware is a contraction of the English words "malicious software" and is a collective term for a variety of malicious software that can infect computers and their programs and perform harmful actions.

There are different purposes of malware, which may include:

  • Exploiting personal information
  • Monitor online behaviour (spyware)
  • Delete data
  • Perform ransomware attacks
  • Send unwanted advertisements (adware)
  • Carry out DDoS attacks

How to install malware?

You can be affected by malware in many ways. Most often, malware is installed on a computer device through phishing. In phishing, cyber criminals lure their victims to click on a link or download a file in an email. In both cases, malware can be installed on the victim's computing device.

It can also happen through security holes in legitimate computer applications on one's computer, such as Windows, Java or Adobe.

Cyber criminals can also infect official company or organisation websites with malware code that activates fake pop-up messages when someone visits the website. In some cases, cyber criminals create their own malicious websites that can spread malware if someone accesses the site.

How can I tell if malware has been installed on my computer?

Malware can be difficult to detect, but there are a few things you should consider if you suspect malware:

  • Is your computer very slow all of a sudden?
  • Does your webcam turn itself on?
  • Do new windows open by themselves?
  • Are you having trouble getting online?
  • Is your browser sending you to the wrong places?
  • Do you suddenly have programs on your computer that you didn't install yourself?

Types of malware

There are many types of malware that can harm your computer.

Trojans. Trojans are a type of malware that masquerades as legitimate programs, files or updates in various ways. They may look like an email attachment from a colleague or a security update. When you download the file or application, your computer becomes infected with the Trojan horse.

A computer worm. A computer worm is a computer program that, once a computer is infected, copies itself and spreads over the network or Internet connection and can infect any unprotected computer and server on the network.

Virus. A computer virus, like worms, is a computer program, but a virus infects an existing program, a "host program", on a computer and then copies itself and spreads to one or more programs or computers on a network.

It has become easy to identify a virus with anti-virus software, so computer criminals don't use computer viruses very often anymore.

Spyware. Spyware is used to monitor and collect personal information from your computer. Spyware can monitor your operating system, email and your behaviour on the Internet, such as the websites you visit. This monitoring is used, among other things, to see your passwords when you enter them.

Ransomware. Ransomware is a type of malware that locks your computer or other devices and prevents you from accessing your data, in part by encrypting the data. You will then be asked to pay a ransom in cryptocurrency to regain access to the data.

Protect yourself from malware

To avoid malware, you can protect yourself in several ways, both in terms of precautions and technical tools.

Use an antivirus program

An antivirus program is a program that scans your computer and selected applications to find and remove malware, especially viruses. It is important to regularly scan your device and all relevant applications. In addition, remember to update the antivirus software itself.

Take regular backups of your data

If you are hit by a malware attack, the hacker may lock or delete your data. So back up your photos, documents and other important data regularly. That way you can be sure your data won't be lost. It can be a good idea to back up both to an external physical hard drive and to a cloud-based solution, such as Dropbox or Google Drive.

Make sure you don't always automatically log in to your backup or have the external hard drive connected to your computer.

Update your computer regularly

You should update programs and systems regularly to protect your computer from malware. Many types of malware and other digital threats exploit security holes in your computer's softwaree, so you reduce the risk of malware if your applications always have the latest security patches. You can set your computer to update automatically.

Make sure you have a firewall

A firewall is a protection between your computer and the open internet. Your firewall controls what data and files are sent in and out of your computer. The firewall can protect your devices from malicious software or files from the internet.

Do not click on pop-up messages

You may receive pop-up messages in your browser when you are online. Typically they will say that your computer is infected with a malicious program, that you should scan it immediately to avoid viruses, or that you should download some tools to protect it. Don't click on them or try to close them as they contain malware themselves.

Watch your emails

Be aware of emails you don't expect to receive or where you don't know the sender. Do not click on links or download attachments in emails sent to you unsolicited. If in doubt, contact the sender.

You should also be aware of unsolicited messages on online networks or social media, such as Facebook. Hackers also try to get victims to install malware through chat messages or comment tracks.

What can I do if I have been hit by malware?

Most malware is difficult to remove yourself if your computer has been infected. It is a good idea to contact some professional computer or security experts for help.

If your computer is infected with malware and you are able to turn it on, you should disconnect it from the Internet. You should also delete temporary files, clear cache and cookies from your browser and scan your computer with an antivirus program.

It's a good idea to change your passwords regularly, especially once your computer has been infected with malware.

Author Sofie Meyer

About the author

Sofie Meyer is a copywriter and phishing aficionado here at Moxso. She has a master´s degree in Danish and a great interest in cybercrime, which resulted in a master thesis project on phishing.

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