In 2016, a new malware emerged every 4.6 seconds, which means that every day malware becomes increasingly destructive. That’s why, it is important that you know what malware is, how it is changing, and what you can do to keep yourself safe.
Malware is the umbrella term used for any malicious software that can attack a system. Depending on the type of malware and the person using it, the damage can vary from minor irritants such as browser popups to the complete destruction of your data.
Under the malware umbrella exists viruses, which are programs that copy themselves and infect a computer by spreading from one file to another. Viruses are the most common type of malware and typically delete or corrupt data on one computer and spread to other machines through the infected files.
Worms are advanced viruses that can self-propagate, spreading from one machine to another without any user action.
The Trojan is an application or software that looks like legitimate software, but once downloaded, can destroy a system by giving hackers control of your machine. Unlike viruses and worms, Trojans do not multiply.
How Malware Is Developing
As malware prevention and detection tools get smarter, hackers are constantly trying to develop innovations to bypass these security controls. For example, while malware usually leaves some trace of its existence on a hard drive, recently a new strain of fileless malware has been developed that leaves absolutely no trace.
In addition, malware has moved from the desktop to mobile devices and beyond with serious implications. There is already malware being developed to target driverless cars, giving hackers power over your vehicle while you are in it. There is even sophisticated state-sponsored malware used in international cyber warfare. The Stuxnet malware is a good example where US military intelligence developed a malware code to cause maximum damage to specific models of programmable logic controllers being manufactured by Siemens and used in Nuclear power plants in Iran. For most people, as the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes more pervasive, it will leave them more vulnerable to malware and hackers in areas of their lives that were previously out of reach.
The Response To Malware’s Growing Threat
Since malware began as a virus that threatened single computers, the defense was to develop localized machine-specific security controls. This included anti-virus software which detected and cleaned any known viruses. As malware became more sophisticated and began replicating itself and spreading, the defense also had to become more sophisticated. Specialized security tools were deployed, including intrusion prevention systems on a network to identify and block malware as it tried to spread from one machine to another. In addition, common security devices including firewalls and web proxy servers were designed to recognize malware so they could attempt to block malicious programs from entering a corporate network.
However, these safety measures cannot be used alone. Since most malware exploits known weaknesses or vulnerabilities in software for which antidotes are already available, the most important thing users can do is to keep all computer software, including the operating system and other applications, installed with the latest updates.
What You Can Do To Stay Safe
A few simple steps can go a long way in keeping your systems free from malware:
- Have a licensed version of well known antivirus software.
- Always make sure your antivirus is updated with the latest signatures.
- Never disable or turn off your antivirus or cancel a virus scan in progress.
- Never say “No” when prompted for a software update by Microsoft, Firefox or any other software vendor.
- Do not click on suspicious links or attachments in your email.
- Be cautious about downloading freeware and shareware. Many of them come bundled with malware.