In modern times, data is the most useful asset for organizations and individuals alike. While all the data stored on your devices can make your life easier, such as your pre-entered passwords, bank account-related information, and information pertaining to your clients and customers and organizational data (if you’re an organization), this information is considered delicate as any third-party access can impact you and your organization.
Such data, when accessed, can be of great value for certain parties. Any individual trying to gain access to your personal data and information is an attacker. And since networks and devices are the targets for attackers to gain access to such information, such attacks are known as cyber-attacks. Cyber attackers make use of malware to target their victims. Here’s everything you need to know about malware and how you can protect your network from them.
What Is Malware?
Malware is the abbreviation for malicious software, and as the name suggests, it is software designed by attackers to conduct a variety of behaviors. These behaviors may range from infecting, stealing, and exploring a system. Malware is delivered to a system over a network. There are various types of malware, which is why there can also be a host of methods to infect computer systems.
What Does Malware Do?
A cyber attacker may design malicious software to accomplish various objectives. Therefore, there are many types of malware, and each has its own unique capabilities. With that said, here are some objectives for developing malware:
- Infecting a system and using the malware as a remote control for that infected system
- Sending spam to multiple unsuspecting targets using the infected system
- Investing in the local network of the infected user
- Stealing sensitive or confidential data
Types of Malware
The following are some of the most common types of malware you can look out for:
Viruses are malicious software that is generally attached to a file or a document. It has the ability to spread from one host to another, and it supports macros for the execution of its code. It is dormant after being downloaded unless it is opened and used. Viruses are responsible for disrupting the operations of systems and can even cause data loss.
Worms are aptly named as they are rapidly replicating malware that can easily spread to multiple devices in a network. While worms, like viruses, can cause significant disruption in a device’s operations, they do not need a host program to disseminate. It takes them a downloaded file or a network connection to infect the system and then multiply and disperse at an incredible rate.
Disguised as useful software, a trojan virus gains access to sensitive data when a user downloads it. This virus can make modifications to the data and even delete or block it. In addition, the Trojan virus also affects the performance of the device. However, what makes them different from worms and other viruses is that they cannot self-replicate.
Spyware malware runs secretly on a system to report back to a remote user. Spyware is primarily developed to gain access to sensitive information rather than targeting the operations of a computer system and disrupting them. This sensitive information is accessed by predators who intend to steal the personal or financial information of the target. One example of spyware is a keylogger, which is used to record the keystrokes of a person to trace their passwords and personal information.
Adware is a type of malicious software that targets your system to collect data that enables the attacker to provide appropriate advertisements to you. Adware is not generally considered a bigger threat. However, in some cases, it may even affect the performance and operations of your computer. One such instance is redirecting the browser to unsafe sites that may also contain spyware and Trojan horses.
Ransomware is generally used as a phishing scam technique. Once it infects a system, gains access to delicate and confidential information on it and protect it to prevent the user from gaining access to their own data by encrypting the information. Once this is accomplished, the attacker demands a financial payout to give the user access to their data.
Fileless malware, which is a memory-resident malicious software, operates from the computer memory of the victim instead of the hard drive files. It is specifically more challenging to detect fileless malware because they are not stored in the hard drive since there are no files to be scanned. Further, once the victim reboots their computer, the malware disappears, making forensics all the more difficult.
Types of Malware Attacks
Different types of malware have the ability to use a variety of methods to spread themselves to computer systems. With that said, here are some common ways in which malware may try to gain access to the potential victim’s computer system:
- Malware is often disguised as an email attachment in the form of malicious code. When opened and executed by unsuspecting users, it gains access to the computer. Further, when such emails are forwarded, the malware has the chance to access a greater number of computer systems, thus making it easier for the malware to spread deeper into the organization. Therefore, the network is further compromised.
- Network file systems (NFS) and file servers, such as the ones that are based on the common internet file system may also be responsible for enabling the malware to spread more quickly when users access or download the files that have been infected.
- One of the ways for the malware to replicate itself onto removable media is through file-sharing software. It also enables the malware to replicate itself onto networks and computer systems.
- Malware can spread even from files that may not seem harmful, such as pictures and music. This generally happens through peer-to-peer file sharing.
How to Prevent Malware?
There are multitudes of security solutions aimed at ensuring your system is protected from harmful and dangerous malicious software. Such solutions work to detect and prevent malware from harming your system. Some of the most popularly used malware security solutions include firewalls, network intrusion prevention systems, unified threat management systems, deep packet inspection, and anti-spam and antivirus gateways among others.
It is crucial for the security solutions to be tested using different types of malware-based attacks to ensure your system is truly protected from malware and that they perform as they’re intended to. This testing takes place during different phases of the attack lifecycle so that the malware’s execution and exploitation can be stopped.
How to Detect Malware Infection?
Malware detection is made possible using various malware detection and analysis tools, such as intrusion prevention systems, firewalls, and sandboxing solutions. While certain malware types can be easily detected, it might be relatively challenging to detect others, such as fileless malware and spyware. Many of the malware types are stored either in the hard drive or the attachments. When the security solution scans through your storage, you can expect it to detect malware.
How to Protect Your Network from Malware?
You can take a series of steps to ensure not only your computer but also your network is safe from malicious software attacks. Here are some such measures you can take to ensure protection from network malware:
- Make it a point to update your operating system and applications from time to time, as outdated applications and OS are usual targets for cybercriminals.
- Always avoid clicking popup links and instead close the popup message by clicking on the close option in the upper right corner.
- If you’re not familiar with a website or an app, make it a point to not click on any unknown links. The same applies to the links that you may receive via text messages or emails.
- Always use websites that are known and trusted. Avoid using unfamiliar websites. And when installing an app, always do so via official app stores.
- Try to minimize the number of apps you have on your device. Install apps that you need and when you stop using an app, uninstall it.
- You can install paid as well as free malware security systems on your devices. While paid comprehensive solutions come with various features, a free solution may be helpful in running a basic malware search.
- If you notice a new app on your phone without having installed it, chances are that it is spyware. Therefore, don’t leave your devices unattended, and keep an eye on the settings of your device.
One of the biggest problems when dealing with malware is that these malicious threats to your devices easily evolve. An attacker can easily develop malicious software per his intentions and target. Here are some of the most high-profile malware attacks the world has seen:
- Conficker was a worm malware that leveraged various types of attack vectors and was known for exploiting unpatched flaws in Windows. It would inject malicious codes into emails to hijack Windows devices and trace passwords.
- Zeus, which was a keylogger, targeted banking information.
- SQL Slammer spread rapidly in 2003 and caused internet traffic to halt.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How do I detect and respond to malware?
You can detect malware by ensuring that your infrastructure is continuously monitored. It is also recommended that you have alerts or alarms for suspicious activities. When you suspect a malware attack, it is best to disconnect and isolate the affected devices from the network and contact incident response experts so that the incident response plan can be initiated.
2. How do I protect my network against malware?
Some of the measures you can take to protect your network against malware are to lock your remote desktop protocol down to secure it, provide user training to your organization’s members, have email filters to keep your emails secure from ransomware, establish administrative permissions, and keep your applications and systems up to date.
3. Does malware affect Macs?
Macs are known to have strong protection against common threats. Just like any other computer, Macs are also vulnerable to malware and threats. Therefore, it is safe to say that Macs do not possess a full breadth of protection from malware. They need extra measures to be taken to ensure 360-degree protection from every type of threat.
4. Does malware affect mobiles?
Yes, malware can affect mobile devices as well. However, taking certain precautions can keep your device safe. Mobile devices come with built-in security. Therefore, make sure not to jailbreak your device as it may compromise your device’s security.
5. Is malware a virus?
Malware is malicious software developed in the form of a code or a program to have harmful consequences. While malware is not a virus in itself, the virus is a type of malware.
6. What is cyber hijacking?
Cyber hijacking, also known as computer hijacking, is one of the network security attacks wherein the attacker attempts to gain access and control of your computer system, network communications, and/or software applications and programs.
Grab the opportunity to be a part of the MIT CSAIL Professional Programs community and interact with your peers. Attend masterclasses from MIT faculty in our PGP in Cyber Security and expedite your cybersecurity career in no time!
Since cyber-attacks are a common threat looming on organizations with an abundance of sensitive data, and individuals with personal data on their devices alike, there is a growing demand for cyber security professionals to help organizations and individuals secure their devices and networks from the malicious attacks of malware. For individuals who find the prospect of a career in cyber security lucrative, pursuing a well-planned course, such as Simplilearn’s Post Graduate Program in Cyber Security can help build the skills and acquire knowledge to become a professional cyber security expert.
If you have any questions or queries, please feel free to post them in the comments section below. Our team will get back to you at the earliest.