Malware: what is is and how to prevent it
At first, it just seems like your PC is running slow. Things are taking a bit longer to load. It’s nothing too bad. Then you start getting increasingly worrying emails and phone calls, or you click somewhere and your PC refuses to execute the demand. What has happened?
Most likely, your computer has been infected with malware.
What is malware?
Malware is the umbrella term for all types of malicious software, and can cover viruses, worms, trojan horses and ransomware. Nearly all malicious software is created with the intention of monetary gain or disruption, but there are several different types of malware to be aware of.
A worm has the ability to self-replicate in order to spread over a network. Similar to a virus, it differs via exploiting vulnerabilities in infected systems, but it can also disguise itself as a legitimate looking file. The concept was created by a graduate student back in 1988 as a mere exercise, but it was able to replicate itself so quickly it was soon all over the internet.
Ransomware is as its name describes: it will lock a user out of their computer and demand a ransom in order for them to regain access. These are the most recent types of malware to gain headlines with the popularity in bitcoin and cryptocurrency, which is typically what the ransomware will demand from the locked-out user.
Again, as its name suggests, scareware plays on the user’s fear, popping up without warning with flashing, frantic images to encourage people to click first and think later, promising protection if they act – usually by entering credit card information - before they’re infected or lose any data.
Spyware secretly collects data from the infected computer about its user, whereas adware will push advertisements at users without prior consent or knowledge. Spyware can collect data by using keyloggers to record a user’s keystrokes and extract information such as usernames and passwords.
This kind of malware is on the rise, and is one of the hardest types of malware to detect because there is no digital footprint for antivirus programs to detect. Often hiding themselves in trusted applications such as Microsoft Word or Excel, or it can even embed its script into Microsoft’s scripting language used to automate its systems from a remote location. Fileless malware writes itself directly onto RAM rather than onto the disk.
Computer viruses are a type of malware that self-replicate by inserting its code into other programs, working covertly inside other software to avoid detection. They are aptly named because they work similar to the viruses that infect our bodies by hiding in cells, duplicating itself and then moving onto the next cell to infect. They are made either by bots or people with the intention to disrupt people’s IT infrastructure or to extract personal information for financial gain such as identity theft.
Types of viruses
File infector: this virus can dig into your executable files and promptly spread through a network. These types of viruses even have the ability to overwrite your computer’s operating system (OS).
Macro virus: These viruses proliferate in and exploit macros (sequences of events that can be played back to help with repetitive tasks. These usually arrive in innocuous files such as a word document attached to an email, usually accompanied by a title that encourages or frightens the receiver into clicking it without thinking, enabling the virus to activate and spread in the system. These viruses are relatively easy to create and distribute, making them popular with hackers.
Polymorphic viruses: these viruses are able to modify their own code, replicating and encrypting itself to evade detection by antivirus programs.
Of course, prevention is always cheaper than the cure: and in most cases, prevention is often free! There are lots of free applications and programs on the internet designed specifically for locating, isolating and destroying malicious software. We’ll go through some of the ones with a free version, and provide safe links to download them.
This is a security program that comes with every legitimate purchase of a modern Windows OS. Windows Defender has built in antivirus and anti-malware protection. Defender is a good starting point if you’re unsure what antivirus programs to use for your system. Search in your windows toolbar for Defender to open up the software and get protected.
This antivirus software has a free version, and we also offer a free 30-day trial for the paid version here. Overall, Avast offers very solid protection for your PC and you can download the free version here.
Trusted for many years, Malwarebytes has a solid reputation in the antimalware community, being one of the most often recommended pieces of software for removing malicious software. There are options for both a free version and a paid version. You can download Malwarebytes here
image credit: Malwarebytes official site
Super anti spyware
Another high reputable piece of software, SuperAntiSpyware is trusted to find and destroy hidden spyware applications and software in your system. There are free and paid options and you can download it here.
image credit: SuperAntiSpyware official site
This month, we had a call from someone whose computer was in a very bad shape. A malicious file had accidentally been downloaded, and the user was being sent emails showing her passwords and threatening to leak her details. Coming to us for help, we were able to take her hard drive, completely wipe and reformat it using diskpart to ensure there were no lingering malicious programs left there. Then, once we were happy with the wipe, we ran a full scan with the aforementioned programs to double check the computer’s digital health. We were able to completely free the system from any malicious programs and send it back to the user completely cleaned.
So even if you do find yourself compromised by a hacker or malware, we offer a complete malware removal service and deep clean of your computers, so if you need any advice or assistance, get in touch either by emailing us at email@example.com, or taking a look at our IT services