The word “malware” is commonly used in the world of cyber security. However, many people who don’t work in the field of network security aren’t sure what malware is other than it’s something bad they don’t want to be infected with. Though you don’t necessarily need to know everything about malware to protect yourself from it, a little bit of knowledge will help you understand this threat and better arm yourself against it.

What is Malware?

The word malware is a combination of two words: malicious and software. So, any piece of software that is meant to steal data, damage devices, or otherwise wreak havoc with your system could be considered malware. Though it’s certainly been a more popular term recently, malware has been around since the 1970s. This was when the Creeper virus introduced the world to a whole new level of threat and malware has been attacking systems all around the world ever since.

Malware is an overly broad category as it describes several threats to your network security. Here are some of the most common types:

Spyware: The name says it all! Spyware is malware that is used to spy on you. When you are infected with spyware, it hangs out in the background of your system, invisible, and sees everything you’re doing online. It can steal passwords, see credit card numbers, and basically snoop on whatever you’re browsing.

Trojans: Just like the famed horse that looked like a legit gift but actually contained dangerous attackers, trojans are a type of malware the seems legit. It can either be hidden in legitimate software or disguised as it. When you download the software, it creates backdoors to let other dangerous malware into your system.

Viruses: A virus gets into your system by attaching itself to clean files so that it can infect other clean files. Once you’re infected with a virus, it can spread quickly and delete or corrupt files as well as damage your system. A virus most often appears as an executable file that ends with .exe.

Adware: Adware is advertising software that ranges from annoying pop-ups to dangerous malware that undermines your security and gives other types of malware a way into your system.

Worms: Worms use network interfaces to get into entire networks of devices that are linked locally or through the Internet. Once it infects one device, it jumps to the next and the next until it’s removed.

Ransomware: Ransomware holds your computer (and you) hostage by infecting your system, locking it down, then charging you a ‘ransom’ to get control again. In some cases, ransomware will charge a fee to return your files, documents, and other information it has kidnapped.

How to Protect Against Malware

Though malware is scary and can be incredibly destructive, it usually relies on an action performed by the user to get into a system. That’s why it’s vital to train your team (and yourself) to recognize malware and prevent it from infecting your system. Here are some easy ways you and your team can reduce the chances of being affected by malware.

Get an ad blocker: It’s impossible to know which ads are legit online and which contain malware. That’s why using a reliable ad-blocker is important. We suggest the uBlock Origin browser extension that’s available for both Chrome and Firefox.

Know who to trust: The most common way hackers deliver malware is by getting you to click on alerts, links, ads, or emails. No matter how appealing or legit something may look, do not click on it unless you know exactly what it is and who it’s from.

Browse safely: While malware can be found on almost any type of website, it’s mostly commonly found on small, local websites with little to no backend security. Reduce your chances of being infected by malware by limiting your browsing to large, reputable sites with tight security.

Check those downloads: Before you download anything, double check that it’s trustworthy. You can do this by reading reviews of the download, independently contacting the person who sent you the download to verify it’s truly from them and asking others who have already downloaded the software.

While these tips will keep you and your team safe from much of the malicious software out there, there is still a chance you could be infected by malware. In the next blog, we’ll talk about how to detect when you’re infected and how to remove malware quickly before too much damage is done!