What Is Malware? And How Can You Prevent It?

What is malware and how to prevent it

Malware attacks can come from anywhere on the internet and any of us can become victims. But what is malware and how can you prevent a malware attack?

Malware attacks can come from anywhere on the internet and any of us can become victims. But what is a malware and how can you prevent a malware attack?

Malware attacks are no joke.

If you're using the internet, which you are, you should know a bit about what malware is, what types of malware are out there so you can protect your computer from getting infected.


What is malware?

Malware is the short term for malicious software and it refers to any malicious program, software or code that aims to harm a computer or device.

The goal of a malware attack varies on the type of malware that's being used. Attacks can be used to infect your computer with malware until it crashes, to delete the files on your computer, or even to steal your private information and get access to your bank account.

Malware attacks can be either active or passive. Active attacks interfere with the normal functioning of a system, while passive attacks silently draw (steal) information from a system.

While a malware attack can come from the interior of a computers' system (an employee in a company), the most common types of computer malware attacks (and most dangerous) come from external sources. They can be initiated by amateurs, hackers groups, or even hostile governments.


Different types of malware

Malware exists in many forms, and each of them acts differently on the victim's computer. The following are the most common types of malware.

Viruses - Viruses are a type of malware that attaches themselves to executable files or pieces of software and once they are in a computer, they start reproducing, aiming to infect as many files as possible.

Worms - Worms are similar to viruses, the difference being that worms are not attached to files but they are standalone pieces of software.

Bots - While bots are not always dangerous, they are often used maliciously for malware attacks such as DoS attacks.

Trojan Horses - Trojans are a type of malware that hide behind programs and are extremely dangerous because they are often used to install other types of malware such as keyloggers.

Keyloggers - Keyloggers are a type of malware that runs in the background, allowing the attacker to see all the keystrokes you hit for finding out usernames, passwords, and even credit card credentials.

Adware - Adware is a form of malware that will push unwanted advertisements within your browsers.

Spyware - Spyware is a malicious software that collects information about your online behavior to either use it for adware or to sell it to third parties.

If you want to learn more about the types of malware and what they do, we put together a post about the most common malware attacks.


How does malware spread?

Hackers are continuously looking for new ways to get into their victims' computers. Here are the most common ways malware can be spread.

Email - This is a popular and easy way of spreading malware. Some emails can even infect your computer with malware only by opening the email.

The internet itself - There are lots of links and websites that contain malware. Also, there are high risks of getting malware from downloadable software around the internet.

Outdated software - Having outdated software (operating system, browsers, plug-ins) makes you vulnerable to malware attacks.

Local Area Networks (LAN) - When more computers are connected over a private network, its enough for one computer to get infected and the malware will spread to all the others.

Pop-ups - Malware can be hidden in the form of a genuine alert or message. The message often tells you your computer has been infected and once you click to remove the malware, you'll actually be installing it.

Storage media - It's common for hackers to hide malware in media files. These are spread through USB drives or DVDs/CDs.


Signs of a malware infection

Some malware attacks are easy to spot as they will cause your computer to behave differently, while others can pass unnoticed until it's too late. Here are the warning malware symptoms you should look for.

Your computer slows down

One of the signs your computer may be infected with malware is a slowed down computer. If you notice the computer takes a long time to start up or that programs run sluggishly, a virus can be the cause.

First, you should rule out any other potential causes for this behavior. One of the causes can be that you're low on RAM memory. Open up the task manager on Windows (Activity monitor on MacOS) and see what's your RAM usage. If you're using too much RAM, you'll want to kill some of the processes.

Another thing you should check is if you have any available space on the hard drive. A fully stuffed hard drive will also cause your computer to move slowly.

If you find none of these is the cause, your computer might be infected with malware.

Programs behaving unusually

If you notice that programs are starting to open or close automatically, it might be a sign of computer malware. First, check to see if the programs that behave this way are compatible with your hardware and make sure they are not set up to act this way. If the problem doesn't come from the programs themselves, a malware on your computer might be the cause.

Suspicious files

Some types of malware are designed to flood your hard drive with malicious files. In this case, it will cause your hard drive to lack storage space, which should be a sign of concern.

If you come across programs or files you don't recognize, avoid opening them. You can quickly search on Google the program's name to see if it's a legitimate program you forgot you installed or a possible malware. Run an antivirus scan to remove the malware.

Pop-ups and unwanted programs

Some types of malware are easily spotted because they are actually screaming in your face. A great example is malicious pop-ups that show on websites out of nowhere. They are usually accompanied by text that aims to lure you to click on them "How to make $10.000 a week from home". Another sign of malware are toolbars, programs or browser extensions that just appeared out of the blue.


Best practices to prevent malware

Antivirus or antimalware software

An antivirus or antimalware software is a must for everyone connecting to the internet giving that any file you download from the internet can have hidden malware. It is the first step to protecting yourself against malware attacks.

The antivirus software will scan all the files that get into your computer to see if they are legitimate. If the software finds that a file is a possible threat by having a hidden malware, it will notify you and will remove the file from your computer before you launch it.

Update and scan regularly

It's crucial that you keep your antivirus software updated to the latest version. With each update, antivirus programs introduce new definitions for malware as hackers are always looking for ways to improve malware so they can bypass antivirus scans.

Also, remember to scan your computer regularly. You can set up the antivirus program to automatically scan the device at a specific time interval. If you heavily use your computer and the antivirus program slows it down while scanning, you can set it up to run the scans at night.

Install a firewall

Firewalls provide a thick layer of security, acting as a shield between your computer and the internet. The firewall keeps an eye on all the traffic that's coming to your computer and will block the access to potentially dangerous traffic. You are the one setting up the security rules based on which the firewall will analyze the traffic, giving you the opportunity to customize the security rules according to your needs.

Mind that a firewall is not an all-in-one solution for online security as it is not able to detect all types of malware that are hidden in files and programs. Yet, it is an important asset to prevent malware attacks and should be used in conjunction with an antivirus program.

Update your operating system

An outdated operating system is more susceptible to malware attacks. With each update, developers issue security patches and fix possible security leaks. Make sure you always update your operating system to its latest version. This is also true for mobile devices, tablets, and so on.

Be mindful about your online surfing

Lots of the websites you come across are a potential threat for your online security as they can have malware hidden in the code. Before you click on a link or download something from the internet, first make sure the website is trustworthy. If you are not sure the website is not malicious, scan the files you download before opening them.

Don't open suspicious emails

One of the most common ways in which malware spreads is through emails. Always think before you open up an email. Is it coming from a trusted source? Does it look suspicious in any way? Never click on the links inside an email or download the attachments if you're not 100 percent sure the source is trustworthy.

Backup your data

Backing up your files is an efficient way to prevent losing important data in case of a malware attack. With certain malware attacks, such as ransomware, hackers will encrypt your data and will cut off your access until you pay a certain ransom. There's no guarantee the hacker will give you back the access to those files and they could end up deleted. By having them backed up in more places, you'll make sure to keep your files secure.

It's best to back up your files on at least one offline storage such as an external hard drive because hackers won't be able to reach them there.

Use a VPN

Because a VPN service makes you anonymous online and encrypts all the traffic exchange between your device and the internet, such service is a great asset for protecting yourself against malware attacks.

If you often connect to WiFi public networks (i.e. coffee shops, airports, hotels) you should never connect without having a VPN service. Especially if you access social accounts, email clients, or bank information.

Public WiFi networks are poor, heavily used and vulnerable, making them an easy target for hackers. There are lots of ways in which a hacker can alter a public WiFi router, and everyone connecting to that network is at risk of having their private data stolen.

When you choose a VPN service, make sure the providers don't keep logs and that it comes with the kill switch feature.

The DrSoft VPN service provides you with:

  • No logs policy
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It is always best to prevent malware attacks than having to remove malware from your computer. While some types of malware are easy to get rid off, some may ask for a complete computer reboot to eliminate.

Now that you know what malware is and how it spreads, you can strengthen your online security and prevent malware on your computer.

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