Threats & Vulnerabilities Malware Threats & Vulnerabilities


The term "malware" is short for malicious software and is usually used as a catch-all term to refer to any software that causes damage to a computer, server, or computer network. Some of the most common types of malware are listed below.

Viruses
Much like a cold or the flu, a computer virus is a type of malware that can replicate itself. Viruses are designed to change the way a computer operates by attaching itself to a legitimate file or program and spreading across a system. Sometimes a virus will lay dormant after infection, waiting for specific conditions on a computer (such as a certain time or after a certain program is opened) before attacking and spreading.

Viruses can spread in a number of ways, including in emails as attachments, internet file downloads, and social media scam links. Keep in mind that your smartphone is a computer and can get viruses, too.
Some viruses may show no signs, but some are very obvious. Here are some signs to look for:
 
  • Frequent pop-up windows that encourage you to visit suspicious sites or download other software.
  • Changes to your internet homepage that you did not make.
  • Mass spam emails being sent from your email account that you don’t remember sending.
  • Unusually slow computer performance if a virus is using your computing power in order to run processes.
  • Frequent computer crashes. A virus can also cause your computer or device to stop working.
  • The appearance of programs on your computer that you did not download or install.
  • The changing of information (like passwords) without your permission.
 
Viruses can do a number of things to your computer and your personal information. They can be used to steal data like your passwords or important files on your hard drive. In other cases, they can use your computer’s power to further spread the virus through email or over a connected network.

You can protect yourself from viruses by exercising caution when visiting sites on the internet, not downloading suspicious files, having your firewall turned on, and by keeping your antivirus up to date. Additionally, you can scan email attachments before opening them by right clicking on them and selecting Scan.

Worms
A worm is a type of computer virus that can replicate itself across a network without any human interaction needed. Unlike other types of viruses, worms don’t need a host file and don’t need to infect files to spread. Worms make multiple copies of themselves, using up computer processing power and resources (like hard drive space and network bandwidth). In the process of replicating, the worm slows down computer and network function and fills up hard drive space until a device is basically unusable.

Worms are often by exploiting vulnerabilities in computer software or via attachments in email. Like viruses, the best way to defend against malware worms is to have up-to-date antivirus protection. Remember to also keep all of the software on your computer updated with the latest patches, which will prevent against exploitation of vulnerabilities.

Botnet
The term “botnet” refers to a blending of the words “robot” and “network.” Botnets are large networks of computers and devices infected with malware that brings them under the remote control of a hacker. Controlled devices may be referred to as “zombies,” owing to the fact that the virus sometimes spreads from device to device. That hacker can then use the computing power of all of the controlled devices to carry out attacks on websites and servers, send out malicious spam email, or do things like mine cryptocurrency. Advanced strains of botnet malware can even self-propagate, meaning they will automatically seek out new devices to infect without the need for a hacker to give commands.

It’s important to remember that computers are not the only devices that can be infected by malware and assimilated into a botnet. Botnet malware can infect just about any internet-connected device. These days, that’s a lot of devices! This can include cell phones, tablets, video game consoles, security cameras, DVRs, smartwatches, thermostats, smart doorbells, and more. If it connects to the internet, it can be controlled by a hacker if it’s not properly secured.

Botnets can be very difficult to detect. The botnet malware typically tries to use only a little bit of a device’s computing power, so that you aren’t likely to notice that your device is doing extra work. There are some ways to keep your devices from becoming zombies in a botnet:
 
  • Use antivirus software. Don’t forget to keep it updated!
  • Update your operating system whenever new patches are available.
  • Avoid email attachments from suspicious sources. Always scan email attachments, even from sources you recognize, before opening.
  • Don’t click on suspicious links.
  • Be careful when downloading files from the internet; make sure you’re downloading from a reputable source. Malware of all kinds is rampant on filesharing and P2P (peer-to-peer) networks, so be careful when using these services.
 
These kinds of attacks illustrate why it’s very important to keep up with security patches to both your operating system and antivirus software. Antivirus may catch the “carrier” malware before it makes it onto your device, saving you a lot of trouble.