Malware is software designed to harm a device, computer system, or server. This includes viruses, worms, ransomware, and spyware.
Hackers use various methods to spread malware, including fake security alerts and drive-by downloads that infect devices automatically. They also use collaboration tools and messaging apps to send infected attachments or links.
What is Malware?
What is malware on a computer? Malware, also known as malicious software, is any computer program that aims to somehow harm digital devices and their users. This can include stealing, encrypting, or deleting data, altering or hijacking core computing functions, and spying on user activity.
Malware often comes from viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware, and ransomware. It can be spread when you visit hacked websites, click on links in phishing emails, or download apps from unofficial sources (such as insecure app stores). It may also be hidden inside other files or programs, such as image and document files.
While it can’t physically damage the hardware of systems or networks, malware can disrupt operations, cost companies’ money, and lead to data loss or reputational damage. It can also steal or access confidential information, slow or even crash a device, and allow attackers to take control of the system.
The most common malware attacks target Windows devices, though the number of infections on Macs is rising. These can be for financial gain, business sabotage, or political reasons. They can result in lost productivity, financial losses, and loss of customers. They can also be used to spy on a business for eavesdropping, capturing sensitive data, and spying on end-user activity. This can include displaying unwanted or inappropriate ads, monitoring keystrokes, and capturing passwords for access to accounts and network systems.
How Does Malware Infect Your Computer?
Like the flu virus, malware is a virus that can infect all types of all electronic devices. These devices may be cell phones, computers, tablets, smart televisions, or gaming systems. Cybercriminals may use various methods to download malware onto these devices, including email, websites, phone calls, and software or app downloads. Once downloaded, the malware can remain dormant until accessed or activated, at which point it will do its damage.
Computer viruses are malware that uses malicious code to cause specific actions. Some of these actions, such as displaying pop-ups and advertising messages, are benign. However, some can be more sinister such as hijacking computers to act as bots, spying on online activities, or launching Distributed Denial-of-Service attacks that cripple websites and web services.
Malware can be difficult to detect because it does not always trigger obvious symptoms. It can be hard to spot once the device becomes very slow or stops working or a user receives a ransom message. Hackers can disguise malware by packing it into legitimate programs such as peer-to-peer file-sharing apps or free software download bundles. Embedding the code into these programs allows the malware to spread quickly among users. This method is especially effective against unsuspecting users who click on an infected link or install something without paying attention to the permission requests.
What Are the Signs of Malware?
If you notice that your computer isn’t performing as normally, a malware infection may be to blame. Malware hogs memory, so opening applications and using your system takes longer than usual. Other common symptoms include the sluggishness of programs and software, frequent crashing or freezing, sudden slowed internet connection, unexpected pop-up ads, and changes to your browser’s home page or software download settings.
Depending on the type of malware, hackers deploy it to steal or destroy data, hijack or degrade core computing functions, and spread malicious software or files through the victim’s system. For example, ransomware locks down users’ access to files or systems until they pay a fine. Cybercriminals hide ransomware in bogus emails that look legitimate or even in attachments to trusted email programs. They also distribute it using peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, free software or app downloads, and infected USB devices.
Other types of malwares may hide behind a fake security warning, such as infected website pop-ups or phony antivirus software alerts. These fake warnings typically ask victims to click a link or call a number to fix the problem, installing more malicious software on their devices. Malware trends can vary yearly, so keeping abreast of current cybersecurity threats is important.
How Can Malware Be Removed?
If you suspect malware is infecting your device, the first step is to download a scanner to identify and remove it. It would help if you also considered connecting the device to a clean network and downloading security software that works constantly in the background to protect against existing and new threats.
Many forms of malware can eat up the resources on your devices, slow them down to a snail’s pace, or change their functionality. Some of the most harmful are viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, and keyloggers. They can steal and sell your personal information on the dark web or encrypt your data, locking you out until you pay a ransom to regain access.
Malware cannot damage the physical hardware of systems or networks but can tamper with core computer functions, sabotage, and interfere with normal operations. It can also spy on you, recording usernames, passwords, and other sensitive information without your knowledge or consent.
While there are a few ways to prevent infection with some types of malware, most attacks depend on you being gullible and clicking on email attachments or programs that seem too good to be true. Even cybersecurity experts can be fooled, for example, when they click to install an app that turns out to have bundled in additional software that they don’t want or need.