Malware: What it is and How to be Protected.

Malware: What you need to know

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No one wants to have a computer infected with a Malware. “What is malware? How can I be Protected”? These may be your search queries. Unfortunately, this problem is all too common thanks to the hundreds of thousands of threats on the Internet that are able to slip through the cracks and fool even the most seasoned techies.

You can always install an antivirus or special software to detect and remove malware but in most cases these programs are not 100% effective. It is important that as users we learn to detect symptoms that may indicate that our computer is infected with malware, identifying the problem is the first step to solve it.

What is Malware?

By definition, malware is an abbreviation of the words “malicious software”. This means that the software is designed and created to cause harm to a device or its user. It is a general term used to classify files or software that cause damage once they enter your system. This damage can manifest itself in many ways, often involving stealing data from the user’s computer, encrypting that data or simply deleting it. Malware also has the ability to change functions within the computer or take control over it completely.

Malware is software designed to cause harm to you or your devices. It includes many types of programs, such as spyware, ransomware, Trojan horses, rootkits and many more. They can spread manually or automatically. They range from being a mere inconvenience, to being incredibly destructive.

How does Malware work?

The spread of malware depends largely on the intention of the creator. For many viruses and worms, the spread is carried out with the intention of reaching as many computers as possible. By definition, infection occurs when data is shared. This can happen on the Internet with downloaded files, email attachments, malicious links or hidden downloads that are completed without the user’s knowledge.

It also occurs when people share files outside the network with infected computers or when they share some multimedia files. Personal infections are sometimes carried out when using a USB port containing malware. It often happens when backdoors or rootkits are installed that allow the creators remote access or administrator access to the victim’s computer.

Advances in cyber security often go hand in hand with advances in malware. New strains are programmed with more sophisticated techniques to evade detection by anti-malware programs as well as computer users. These techniques range from simple tactics, such as the use of network proxies (to hide the IPs of the creators), to more sophisticated forms of standalone malware. In the latter case, the malware avoids detection by hiding within the system RAM. Malware also exploits vulnerabilities in computer security. They do this by exploiting similarities in operating systems to infect multiple systems. In other words, they exploit flaws in security software.

Different type of Malware

Depending on the intention of its creator, malware can range from being very sophisticated software, capable of performing numerous functions, to simply being a nuisance. There are many types of malware, whose differences are based on their elements or mode of operation. Some of these are:

Computer Virus: A computer virus is the classic form of malware. It is a piece of code or program that enters your device without your knowledge. Once there, it can cause a range of damage, from slowing down your system, disabling specific parts, or taking over completely. As with biological viruses, it is designed to spread automatically across networks and devices.

Spyware: These are malware designed to collect data from the computer and its users. It does this by infiltrating the user’s computer and monitoring its activities. It is installed on the user’s computer directly or by exploiting gaps in cyber security.

Ransomware: As its name suggests, ransomware is software created for the purpose of hijacking data from the user’s computer. The software is designed to encrypt the target’s sensitive data. The creators then demand money from the user to decrypt the data.

Read more: What is Ransomware and how to prevent Ransomware Attack

Trojan: This type of malware is created to look like a normal program. So much so that it convinces unaware users to install it on their computer. Once installed and executed, the Trojan horse can begin to perform the malicious function for which it was created. Unlike viruses and worms, Trojan horses rarely attempt to reproduce and spread.

Rootkit: This type of malware is created to give cybercriminals administrator-level permissions on the targeted computer. This access allows them to modify the user’s computer system. In addition, it is used to hide the presence of other malware on the computer system.

Backdoor Virus: This type of malware creates a “secret entrance” inside the target computer. Through this backdoor, cybercriminals have the ability to access the computer without the user’s knowledge. Backdoors are created by other types of malware, such as worms or Trojan horses. With the use of backdoors, cybercriminals also bypass computer security programs. One type of backdoor virus is the Remote Access Trojan (RAT).

Adware: Adware is often referred to as a type of malware, the reality is that adware is considered potentially unwanted application (PUA). This means that  it can lead to malicious sites, the risk of it performing another malicious action.

How to identify the Symptoms  of a Malware

Here are six of the most common symptoms that a computer shows when it has been infected by malicious software.

1. Slowness

If your PC runs very slowly, this can be a symptom of a malware infection, especially if it is a worm or a Trojan. This happens because the malicious software consumes too many CPU resources, overloading your computer and therefore making it run much slower than normal. You must take into account that the computer can be slow for other reasons (lack of maintenance, full hard disk, insufficient ram memory, overheating of the processor, etc.), so this symptom must be added to the following ones to determine whether you have a bug or not.

2. Pop-up windows

If you are surfing the Internet and you suddenly encounter pop-up windows that appear out of nowhere, surprise you and tell you that you have a virus and need to install certain software to remove it, it is very likely that you are already infected by malware, or that they are trying to trick you into getting infected. These windows are one of the biggest scams, and are used to get the user to install a program that will compromise the security of the computer and the data on it while selling you the false idea that it is the opposite. If the pop-up window comes from your own antivirus, then it is legitimate.

Windows that pop up without you taking any action are usually a symptom of infection, most commonly adware (malicious software to display advertising), but in many cases they are more serious threats.

3. Search bars

You might have installed some freeware that had malware in it and also added some search bar for the browser. These appear just below the common address bar of any browser, and they have a lot of buttons and strange things. Sometimes they also change the default search engine you use when you type something in the address bar to Google it. If you get results from a strange search engine that is not Google.com (or whatever you use), it is very possible that you have installed malware. A very common and annoying one is ask.com.

4. System malfunction

Many malicious programs take important operating system files and change them causing everything to start malfunctioning. This can cause the system to display blue screens of death, some applications to close on their own, or you may not be able to open a file or software. Sometimes it’s things as simple as folder and document icons showing up blank without the usual layout, other times it can be a document or download that you can’t delete for the world. Things that should not happen.

5. Unknown error messages

If all the time you are receiving error messages from the operating system indicating that there is some program or file that it cannot open, then it is possible that you have malware. Keep in mind that it could be that an application is corrupted by another cause, but if you get several error messages from several different programs and files, take it as a symptom of infection.

6. The antivirus or firewall has been disabled.

Another common sign that you have an infected computer is that the antivirus and/or firewall are disabled for no apparent reason or without the user having manually disabled them. Always check if these protection programs are working properly, especially if you suspect that the computer has malware.

How to remove Malware?

The best way to remove malware is by installing one of the best antivirus software. These tools scan your system, detect malware and remove it. All automatic. In addition to this, they prevent future installation of malware on your device.

Of course, there are some anti-malware tools that you can install for free, but this is not an ultimate solution. Often, these focus on removing malware that is already installed on your device, rather than preventing new malware from being installed. Rather than preventing infection, they increase it.

Aside from the most serious malware, most can be removed with a few simple steps, although some are harder to remove than others. The most common types of malware are real programs, such as legitimate software that you use every day. These programs can be removed like others from the control panel, at least on Windows operating systems.

However, other malware is more difficult to remove, such as rogue registry keys and individual files that can only be removed manually. These types of malware are best removed by anti-malware tools and similar specialized programs. There are several completely free and standalone on-demand virus and malware scanners that can quickly and often painlessly remove most types of malware.

Conclusion

Obviously, the smartest way to avoid malware is to take precautions to prevent malware from infecting your computer or device in the first place. The most important way to prevent malware from infiltrating your computer is to make sure that you have an anti-virus/anti-virus program installed and configured to constantly scan for signs of malicious activity in your downloads and active files.

Aside from software that automatically monitors for malware, the most important thing you can do to protect your computer is to change your behavior. One way is to not open emails and attachments sent through any messaging platform from people or organizations you don’t know or trust. Even if you know the sender, make sure that whatever is attached is what you would expect or can accomplish in another message.One tricky way to spread malware is to automatically send copies to your friends and family from your email contact list.

Also, make sure you update your operating system and application software whenever updates, especially security updates, are available. And learn how to safely download and install software on your computer to avoid malware.

Finally share this article with a love one or colleague.

Saint Yome

Saint Yome

Cyber Security Researcher and Consultant. Founder and CEO of Futtress Lab Ltd