What is Malware? | Everything You Need To Know


Computer malware is a type of software that is designed to cause damage to a computer, server, or computer network. It can take many different forms, such as viruses, worms, Trojan horses, ransomware, and spyware. These programs can be spread in various ways, including through email attachments, website downloads, and exploiting vulnerabilities in a computer’s operating system or software. Once installed on a computer, malware can perform a wide range of harmful actions, such as stealing personal information, deleting files, encrypting data, or using the infected computer to launch attacks on other computers.

How to Stay Protected from Malware?

Here are some ways to stay protected from malware:

  1. Install endpoint protection on your computer.
  2. Be cautious when opening email attachments or downloading files from the internet, as these are common ways for malware to spread.
  3. Avoid visiting suspicious websites or clicking on unknown links, as they may contain malware.
  4. Enable the firewall on your computer to block unauthorized access and protect against malware attacks.
  5. Keep your operating system and other software up to date with the latest security patches to prevent vulnerabilities from being exploited by malware.
  6. Use a reputable internet security suite that offers multiple layers of protection against malware, including real-time scanning, web filtering, and anti-phishing capabilities.
  7. Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks, as they are less secure and may be vulnerable to malware attacks.
  8. Use strong, unique passwords for all of your online accounts and regularly change them to prevent unauthorized access.
  9. Back up your important files and data regularly to prevent data loss if your computer is infected with malware.

8 Most Common Types of Malware Attacks

There are several types of malware, including:

  1. Viruses: These are malicious programs that attach themselves to legitimate files or programs and spread to other computers when those files are accessed or shared.
  2. Worms: These are independent programs that replicate themselves and spread across networks without needing a host file or program.
  3. Trojans: These are programs that disguise themselves as legitimate software but contain malicious code that can damage a computer or steal sensitive information.
  4. Ransomware: These programs encrypt a victim’s files and demand payment to unlock them.
  5. Adware: These are programs that display unwanted ads on a victim’s computer, often pop-ups or banners.
  6. Spyware: These programs collect and transmit information from a victim’s computer without their knowledge or consent.
  7. Rootkits: These are programs that gain unauthorized access to a computer’s system files and allow an attacker to control the computer remotely.
  8. Bots: These are programs that automate tasks, such as sending spam emails or participating in distributed denial of service attacks.

How to tell if I am infected with malware?

Here are some signs that you may be infected with malware:

  1. Your computer is running slower than usual or crashing frequently.
  2. You see pop-up ads or other unwanted messages on your screen.
  3. You notice strange files or programs on your computer that you did not install.
  4. Your web browser is redirecting you to unfamiliar or suspicious websites.
  5. Your computer is behaving unexpectedly, such as opening and closing programs.
  6. Your antivirus software is reporting malware infections or blocking access to certain websites.
  7. You receive strange or threatening messages from unknown sources.
  8. Your friends or colleagues report receiving spam or phishing emails from your account.

If you suspect you may have malware on your computer, it is important to take action immediately to prevent further damage and protect your personal information. Run a full scan of your system with antivirus software and follow the instructions to remove any infections. You may also need to update your operating system and to patch any vulnerabilities that may have been exploited by the malware.

How Many malware are There?

It is impossible to know the exact number of malware, as new variants are constantly being created and discovered. In 2019, Symantec reported over 357 million new malware variants, an increase of 11% from the previous year. This shows that malware is a rapidly evolving threat, and it is important for individuals and organizations to stay vigilant and protect themselves against these attacks.

Who Creates Computer Malware?

Computer malware can be created by various individuals and organizations, including cybercriminals, nation-state actors, and even amateur hackers. Some malware is created for profit, such as ransomware that demands payment to unlock infected files, while others are created for political or ideological reasons, such as spyware used to gather intelligence or disrupt critical infrastructure. Some malware is also created by researchers and security experts as a way to test and improve cybersecurity defenses or to demonstrate the potential dangers of certain types of attacks.

Will We Ever solve the Cybersecurity Malware Problem?

It is unlikely that the cybersecurity malware problem will ever be completely solved. Malware is constantly evolving and adapting to new technologies and security measures, making it difficult to fully protect against these threats. Additionally, the increasing use of connected devices and the internet of things (IoT) creates new vulnerabilities that malware can exploit. As long as individuals and organizations are willing to create and distribute malware, effective cybersecurity measures will always be needed to protect against these threats.

What is the Most Famous Malware?

One of the most famous malware is the WannaCry ransomware, which was first discovered in May 2017. It infected hundreds of thousands of computers in more than 150 countries, encrypting victims’ files and demanding a payment in order to unlock them. The WannaCry attack caused widespread disruption, affecting hospitals, businesses, and government agencies, and resulted in billions of dollars in losses. It was ultimately stopped by a security researcher who discovered a kill switch in the malware’s code, but it remains a high-profile example of the dangers of ransomware and the need for effective cybersecurity measures.

It’s hard to recall a bigger shock to the IT community than WannaCry, “the biggest ransomware offensive in history.” Within 24 hours, WannaCry had infected more than 230,000 computers in over 150 countries.

From a technical point of view, it was not particularly sophisticated. It exploited a vulnerability known for 91 days and had already been patched by Microsoft.

Even so, an estimated 1.3 billion endpoints were eventually infected. In the UK, the National Health Service – a major client for Sophos – had to cancel 20,000 appointments and operations due to the ransomware. Whether any lives were lost due to it will never be known, but what is known is that it crippled the country’s health service.

After a brief lull, the ransomware menace continued to explode in the years following WannaCry. Attackers expanded both their techniques and their demands.

In terms of techniques, threat actors of all shades and colors saw how they could combine fileless, PowerShell, and phishing techniques to hit victims with various malware, at times using platforms like Emotet and TrickBot to infect victims with multiple malware stages and achieve several objectives simultaneously. A few examples:

  1. Using a PowerPoint to run malicious code
  2. Using a Microsoft Word to run malicious code
  3. Installing trojans that can use your computer resources to mine cryptocurrency 
  4. Using email spam to trick users

Often crimeware operators would use a dual strategy of mass and indiscriminate attacks followed by more targeted intrusions on selected targets from the first wave. Organizations running vital infrastructure and public services became favored targets because they often lacked the budget and expertise to maintain effective security operations and because the critical nature of their services meant they could not tolerate lengthy outages.

Ransomware operators also began to realize that they could leverage victims more effectively by first stealing data before encrypting it. Ransom notes then came with a demand for payment and a threat to leak or sell the stolen data if the victim didn’t pay. In effect, this strategic response nullified organizations’ attempts to protect themselves in the wake of WannaCry merely by ensuring they had offline backups.

Who Wrote the first Malware?

The history of cyber security began with a research project. A man named Bob Thomas realized that a computer program could move across a network, leaving a small trail wherever it went. He named the program Creeper, and designed it to travel between Tenex terminals on the early ARPANET, printing the message “I’M THE CREEPER: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.”

A man named Ray Tomlinson (yes, the same guy who invented email) saw this idea and liked it. He tinkered with the program and made it self-replicating—the first computer worm. Then he wrote another program—Reaper, the first antivirus software—which would chase Creeper and delete it.

It’s funny to look back from where we are now, in an era of ransomware, fileless malware, and nation-state attacks, and realize that the antecedents to this problem were less harmful than simple graffiti. How did we get from there to here?

From an Academic Beginning, a Quick Turn to Criminality

First of all, let’s be clear—for much of the 70s and 80s, threats to computer security were clear and present. But, these threats were in the form of malicious insiders reading documents they shouldn’t. The practice of computer security revolving around governance risk and compliance (GRC), therefore, evolved separately from the history of computer security software. (Anyone remembers the Orange Books?)

However, network breaches and malware did exist and were used for malicious ends and cybercrime during the early history of computers. The Russians, for example, quickly began to deploy cyber power as a weapon. In 1986, the German computer hacker Marcus Hess hacked an internet gateway in Berkeley and used that connection to piggyback on the Arpanet. He hacked 400 military computers, including the Pentagon’s mainframes, to sell their secrets to the KGB. He was only caught when an astronomer named Clifford Stoll detected the intrusion and deployed a honeypot technique.

At this point in the history of cyber security, computer viruses became less of an academic prank and more of a serious threat. Increasing network connectivity meant that viruses like the Morris worm nearly wiped out the early internet, which began to spur the creation of the first antivirus software.

History of Cyber Security: The Morris Worm, and the Viral Era

Late in 1988, a man named Robert Morris had an idea: he wanted to gauge the size of the internet. To do this, he wrote a program designed to propagate across computer networks, infiltrate Unix terminals using a known bug, and then copy itself. This last instruction proved to be a mistake. The Morris worm replicated so aggressively that the early internet slowed to a crawl, causing untold damage.

The worm had effects that lasted beyond an internet slowdown. For one thing, Robert Morris became the first person successfully charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (although this ended happily for him—he’s currently a tenured professor at MIT). More importantly, this act also led to the formation of the Computer Emergency Response Team (the precursor to US-CERT), which functions as a nonprofit research center for systemic issues that might affect the internet.

The Morris worm appears to have been the start of something. After the Morris worm, viruses started getting deadlier and deadlier, affecting more and more systems. It seems like the worm presaged the era of massive internet outages in which we live. You also began to see the rise of antivirus as a commodity—1987 saw the release of the first dedicated antivirus company.

The Morris worm also brought with it one last irony. The worm took advantage of the sendmail function in Unix, which was related to the email function created by Ray Tomlinson. In other words, the world’s first famous virus took advantage of the first virus author’s most famous creation.

How to Stay Protected from Malware?

While no business is immune from cyber attacks, examining the most dangerous attacks of the first three quarters of 2022 allows for better preparation for the following quarter and beyond. SentinelOne’s autonomous, AI-driven solutions can help deliver comprehensive security for those in search of endpoint, identity, and cloud protection.

In a single cybersecurity platform, Singularity XDR, fuses the data, access, control, and integration planes of its endpoint protection (EPP), endpoint detection and response (EDR), IoT security, cloud workload protection (CWPP), and identity threat detection and response (ITDR). With Singularity, organizations gain access to back-end data across the organization through a single solution, providing a cohesive view of their network and assets by adding a real-time autonomous security layer across all enterprise assets.

Request a demo of Singularity XDR to start leveraging AI-powered prevention, detection, response, and threat hunting across user endpoints, containers, cloud workloads, and IoT devices. Need expert advice? Contact us here.

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