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What is Malware?

29 April 2024Consultancy, Cyber Essentials
Cyber Essentials, IASME Cyber Assurance, Vulnerability Scanning Malware

What is Malware?

‘Malware’, a contraction of “malicious software”. It poses a significant threat to individuals and businesses alike. This blog will explore the intricacies of malware: its history, the different types it encompasses, their respective impacts, and how you can fortify yourself and/or your business against these cyber threats.

Malware’s story began in the early 1970s, long before the Internet became a household staple. The Creeper virus, detected on ARPANET (the forerunner of the modern of the internet), was the first known malware. It was an experimental self-replicating program that highlighted potential security vulnerabilities in networked computers.

By the 1980s, with the rise of personal computers, malware started becoming more of a public concern. The infamous Brain virus, which surfaced in 1986, was one of the first examples of a boot sector virus in the wild. As technology advanced, so did malware.

The 1990s and 2000s saw the emergence of worms and Trojans, which exploited the internet and email to spread at an unprecedented scale.

Malware is an umbrella term for various malicious software types, each designed to infiltrate, damage, or disable computers and computer systems.

The most common types are:

1. Viruses and Worms: These are programs designed to replicate themselves and spread to other computers. Viruses attach themselves to clean files and corrupt them, whereas worms exploit network vulnerabilities to spread, often without human interaction.

2. Trojans: These are deceptive software that appear benign or useful but, upon execution, create backdoors in security to let other malware in.

3. Ransomware: This type of malware locks or encrypts the victim’s data, then demands payment in exchange for the decryption key. It can cause severe disruptions, especially to businesses.

4. Spyware: Designed to spy on the user’s actions, this malware collects everything from keystrokes to screen content, often leading to identity theft.

5. Adware: Although less malicious, adware can undermine user experience by displaying unwanted ads that can also serve as a gateway for more malicious software.

Each type has a unique impact:

  • Viruses and worms can cause widespread damage to data and systems, slowing down or completely halting operations.
  • Trojans allow cybercriminals to take control of affected systems, leading to data theft or loss.
  • Ransomware attacks can result in substantial financial losses and data breaches.
  • Spyware compromises personal privacy and can lead to significant personal and financial harm.
  • Adware interrupts productivity and can lead to unintentional malware infections.

Protection against malware requires vigilance and proactive measures.

Some key strategies to consider when trying to enhance your cybersecurity are:

1. Anti-Malware Software – Keep it updated to protect yourself against the latest threats.
2. Software Management: Install updates for all software, not just the operating system, to patch security vulnerabilities.
3. Secure Configuration: Use strong passwords for different sites and update them regularly. Consider ‘Thr3eRand0mWo7ds’ as an example to create longer, complex passwords.
4. Backup Data: Regularly back up your data to mitigate the damage in case of a malware attack.
5. Apply for Cyber Essentials: Apply for Cyber Essentials to protect yourself from an estimated 80% of internet-based threats.

Understanding its implications is crucial for ensuring your digital safety. By educating yourself about the types of malware and adopting comprehensive security measures, you can significantly reduce your vulnerability to these cyber attacks.

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