What is Malware? Simplified

Malware is software that a cyber criminal places on a victims computer via the computer's Operating System.

  • Malware is a term used to describe all harmful computer software.

The malware can be designed to simply disrupt a victim's device or can allow the cyber criminal to spy on a device or have sole access to the device, preventing victims from being able to access the computer and its data.

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Types of Malware

Malware is a term used to describe all harmful computer software and there is a lot of software that fits this description. However, there are three common forms of malware:

  1. Ransomware

  2. Spyware

  3. Virus

Ransomware

Ransomware is malware that a cyber criminal places on a victims computer via the computer's Operating System. The ransomware allows the cyber criminal to have sole access to the victims computer, preventing the victim from being able to access the computer IT system and its data. The cyber criminal/ hacker will then request money in exchange for granting computer access back to the victim.


Spyware

Spyware, like Pegasus, is secretive malware that sends user information to a database. Spyware is downloaded on a computer without the user being aware. This covert download usually occurs when the victim visits a web page that forces the victim's computer to covertly download the malware spyware program.

  • Spyware can also come secretly packaged with a program the victim voluntarily downloads.

  • Spyware can also be the entire program, secretly disguised as a safe program.

After the successful download of the spyware, the victim's data on the computer is recorded and sent to the owner of the spyware.


Virus

A computer virus is malware that acts like a biological virus: it spreads on its own to other computers. Many computer viruses are created to cause chaos and damage the software on computers.

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How Does Malware Get on a Computer or Device?

Malware attacks weak points in the computer’s Operating System:

  • An Operating System (OS) is the software that runs a computer or device. The OS manages the computer's memory and processing. The OS enables the user to operate the computer without knowing coding. Everything that is seen on the computer’s monitor is the OS.

  • OS examples: Apple iOS 14 and Android 10.

Common ways for malware to make its way into a computer's OS is email, pop up ads, and websites.


Malware Emails

Malware is delivered to many victims' devices via phishing email:

  • A phishing email is an email that has a downloadable attachment which is the malware.

The email will attempt to look innocent or similar to an email the victim is expecting. The victim will then download the attachment, thinking it is something else.

Malware Pop Up Ads

These are online ads where the links does not go to a product page but rather to a download of the malware.


Malware Via Bad Website

A bad website is a compromised website. This website secretly forces the user's computer to download the malware.


How Do I Protect Myself From Malware?

There are three good ways to practice computer security and fight malware:

  1. Use reputable and up to date anti-virus software.

  2. Only download programs from trusted sources.

  3. Not clicking online ads or email links and attachments.

About the Author

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Peter Sandru is an Instructor & Co-Founder of NDIL with over 15 years as a Professional Investigator. Peter has spent more than a decade conducting investigations and security operations throughout the world, primarily for corporations, law firms, and government agencies. Peter has assisted in the creation of numerous investigative & security training programs in various capacities.