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Introduction to Malicious Software

Article (PSA-0003)
Submitted by: Billy Joe Long, Member/Manager
Company: Problem Solving Applications, LLC
Titled: Introduction to Malicious Software
Original release date: March 27, 2017

The Internet has become a dangerous place, and computer security threats are a very real concern for any organization or home that uses a computer. Symantec, a computer security provider, reported discovering more than 430 million new unique pieces of malware in 2015. That number is up 36% from the previous year. Kaspersky Lab, another computer security provider, reported close to 2 million registered notifications about attempted malware infections aimed at stealing money via online access to bank accounts.

So why is there so much malware, and what is the point? It really comes down to theft. Stealing, and selling your personal information, your banking and credit card information is a huge money making industry. These attackers not only steal your information, but once they have compromised your computer system, they can use it to attack others, and perform other illegal activities – masquerading as you!

Methods for infecting computers with malware are often quite sophisticated. Malware can spread through, what appear to be, legitimate files, links, or websites. What’s even worse is “attack toolkits,” can be downloaded for free or purchased from the internet making cybercrime easy and inexpensive to commit and can be perpetrated by relatively unsophisticated attackers.

It’s important for all computer users to have a basic understanding of these threats and to learn how to protect themselves. This series of short articles will provide an overview of malware threats, suggestions for infection prevention using antivirus, anti-spyware and firewall software, and steps to take if you suspect your computer is infected.

What Is Malware?
The word “malware” is a portmanteau, blended from the words “malicious” and “software.” It is most often used as a catchall term for computer related threats such as viruses, spyware, adware, and other software installed without a user’s consent or knowledge.

Malware can get into your system in a variety of ways. Here is a short, not exhaustive, list:

  • Infected email attachments
  • Infected removable storage such as portable “thumb-drives”
  • Downloaded software
  • Links in email, social media websites, or instant messages

Here are a few categories of malware, again, not exhaustive:

  • Viruses are a kind of self-replicating software that can slow down or cripple systems, and destroy or alter data.
  • Spyware is software that spies on computer users’ activity to steal passwords, online banking login credentials, and other personal information, typically by using a “keylogger”. A keylogger records the keys you press and sends it back to the attacker.
  • Adware displays annoying pop-up ads.
  • Scareware mimics a legitimate antivirus or anti-spyware service, saying a computer has been infected, then encouraging users to download (and pay for) a fake security solution. The downloaded software is usually spyware.
  • Ransomware encrypts files on a computer, making them inaccessible until a specified ransom is paid. More information on ransomware can be found in these two articles:
  • Botnets are networks of infected computers used for illegal activities, such as sending spam emails or “denial of service” attacks.

Do You Need to Worry About Malware?

So you may be thinking this all sounds scary, but does it really affect me at home or at my place of business? Yes! It is not just large companies or government organizations that need to protect themselves. Anybody, home user or business, can be a victim of malware if not properly protected.

If you are a business, your customers trust you with their personal information. If you are a home user you probably have precious family pictures or important documents stored on your computer. If you’re not taking steps to secure your data, including using antivirus, antispyware and firewall software, your information is not safe. Information security breaches can have major financial and legal consequences.

In the next article we will discuss how antivirus and antispyware software works.

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