Understanding malware and how to protect yourself from it

Malware, or malicious software, is designed to infect systems and devices, harvest data therein (or otherwise compromise their normal functionality), and possibly use that information for financial gain. It’s an umbrella term for a variety of software variants, including spyware, ransomware and viruses.

Hackers leverage a wide range of malware variants, and once you’ve been targeted and infected, there are many potential consequences. Let’s take a look at the range of threats malware poses, the strategies cybercriminals use and how to protect yourself against them. 

Cybersecurity Safety Tips for Your New Tech Toys

Consistently update your browser, plugins and operating systems (older software is easier to infiltrate).

What happens if your computer gets infected?

Certain forms of malware use up memory on your computer, which causes processes and applications to run noticeably slower and crash more frequently. If you notice that your browser is taking a long time to load pages or that applications are closing without any action on your end, you might be dealing with malware.

Your private information is also at risk. Hackers often use malware to intercept sensitive data, such as login credentials, Social Security numbers, bank accounts and credit card details. For instance, if you’re shopping online and filling out digital payment forms on a compromised network, you could inadvertently be giving cybercriminals access to your money. For someone who enters credit card information on websites often, it’s important to check your bank statements regularly and keep an eye out for suspicious charges.

Another possible consequence of an infected system is ransomware. Once it takes root, your sensitive info will be inaccessible unless you pay a fee or revert to a backup.

What are the different types of malware?

Malware comes in many different forms, each one serving its own volatile purpose. Here are three of the main ones:

  1. Worms: Once a single device, such as a laptop or smartphone, is infected, this malware has the ability to replicate itself and spread to others on the same network. This can be a serious problem for places connected to the Internet of Things, like digital homes and smart cities.
  2. Viruses: This is the most recognizable type of malware. It functions by attaching itself to regular code. Then it waits to be executed by unsuspecting users. After that, it proceeds to corrupt files, damage systems and log users out of their own computers.     
  3. Spyware: This discreet code operates in the background without the user being able to notice. It allows hackers to see your internet activity in real-time, as well as possibly watch you through the front-facing camera on your laptop. 

How does malware get onto your computer?

Hackers often trick users into downloading and installing their malware by disguising it as friendly software. They’ll send you phony emails with downloadable attachments and links or try to entice you with fake promotions via pop-ups on websites.

For example, a cybercriminal might send you an email that poses to be from a service you’re currently using, prompting you to download “the latest version of the program.” Once you do so, they’ll have successfully infiltrated your system.

How to protect yourself from malware

Here are a few steps anyone can take to avoid falling victim to cybercriminals.

  • Never download attachments or click on links in emails from unknown senders.
  • Use HTTPS-protected domains for all online purchases.
  • Always use private Wi-Fi or cellular networking when doing anything sensitive.
  • Delete applications you don’t use anymore.
  • Consistently update your browser, plugins and operating systems (older software is easier to infiltrate).
  • Use anti-malware solutions.

Interested in learning more about protecting yourself from malware? Visit us at Total Defense today!