As long as you or your organization are using some sort of computer system or network, you are vulnerable to malware attacks. Malware is a contraction of Malicious Software and is a code often designed to gain unauthorized access and control of the target system for various purposes. 

The purpose of the malicious programs depends on the objective of the attack. We’ll look at these objectives in a minute.

In the following chapters, we’ll also dive into the types of malware to watch out for, the attack vectors hackers can use to distribute their malware into your system, and the ways to protect your operating system or network from attacks.

What Is A Malware Attack?

Malware is a code or program created to gain unauthorized access to your system. Usually, the malware creator has an objective in mind when creating the code. The hacker will also find a way to deliver the malware to your system disguised as something else so that you don’t notice. 

So, we have the objective of the malware attack, the delivery system, and the concealment. These are three critical factors to understand when it comes to attacks because they allow you to detect malware and have preventative measures in place. 

Let’s look at the objectives of attacks in brief detail so that you can be more aware. 

Objectives of Malware Attacks

a) Get Information 

Malware designed to exfiltrate information from your systems is a common objective by most hackers and a common topic in cyber security. Some of the information that hackers can target include payment information, credentials, and other personal data. 

This type of malware target can cost your organisation tons of money and resources, especially ransomware. Speaking of ransomware, let’s look at the second objective. 

But first, if you want to learn more about how to protect your systems, check out our guide on 5 ways to reduce cyber exposure

b) Demand Payment 

So, we’ve talked about a malware attack costing you a lot when the objective is exfiltrating data. This is how the previous objective is tied into this one. Although the objective above is just to get information, this second objective is to demand payment from the victim of the malware attack. 

Ransomware is a type of malicious code that prevents you from accessing your data until your pay the hacker what they’re asking for. For example, the hacker can encrypt your files such that you can’t open them until your pay up. 

Another similar type of attack is scareware. This malware is a type of threat that scares you into paying up. However, as the name suggests, scareware usually involves empty threats that the hacker can’t necessarily bring to fruition. However, since the victim is too scared to dissect the legitimacy of the threats, they often comply with the demands. 

To avoid being a victim of any type of malware and having to pay hackers with resources you may not have, we recommend ensuring that you handle any vulnerabilities in your system. After all, prevention is always better than cure, and in this case, a robust vulnerability management program can ensure that you protect your system from falling prey to a malware attack.

c) Disrupt Operations 

The third objective of malware is to cause issues within your network and stop the smooth operation of things. For example, malware can make your system unusable, thereby stopping any activity within your organisation. 

This can cost you both time and money, especially if you’re in e-commerce and having systems that are down halts business.

What is an example of a malware attack you can think of?

Types of Malware Attacks to Watch Out For

Now that we understand the objectives of malware let’s discuss some common malware types and how they work against your computer systems.

1. Viruses 

Viruses are some of the most common types of malware that target computer systems. Just like biological viruses, these pieces of code attach themselves to your programs, replicate, and spread out. This means that a virus can cause immense damage to your system if not caught in time. 

Some of the ways that a virus can get into your system include infected and malicious websites, file-sharing networks, removable storage devices, and email attachments. 

2. Worms 

The main difference between a computer virus and a worm is that a worm doesn’t need a host program in order to replicate and spread. This self-replicating program can easily spread over a network without your knowledge. 

Some signs to look out for if you suspect you have a worm in your system include slow computers and reduced network bandwidth. Worms work by exploiting vulnerabilities in your operating systems or computer software. 

3. Trojans 

A trojan horse is a malware that is designed to seem legitimate but will in fact cause damage to your system. Hackers create trojans to appear as helpful programs you can use to improve your system, when in fact, their main objective is to steal or damage your data. 

For a trojan horse to be effective, the victim will need to download it from the internet or through an email attachment. Once they run it on their system, the malware is in and ready to cause the intended havoc.

It’s interesting to note that trojan horses can also be disguised as games. This is why cyber security awareness training is important for your organisation. Having employees who understand data protection allows them to spot potential attacks, and stay away from traps. 

Attack Vectors 

Attack vectors are the ways in which hackers can get malware into your system. Here are some common methods of attack to look out for. 

1. Email 

Email attachments and links are some of the easiest ways for hackers to infect your system. A hacker will send you an email with a link or attachment that, when downloaded or clicked, will transfer malware into your system.
Although operating systems like Google do warn you against downloading attachments or opening links from suspicious websites, you still need to be vigilant. If you are unsure about an email, it’s best to ask your IT department before opening it. 

2. Software Vulnerabilities 

A good example of a software vulnerability is outdated software. Therefore, ensure that your systems and software are up-to-date with the latest technologies to avoid attracting hackers. 

In fact, keeping your software up-to-date is one of the best ways to prevent malware attacks. This is because updates often come with security patches that can fix vulnerabilities. You can also use antivirus software to strengthen the protection of your system once you update it.

3. Social Engineering 

This vector attack involves tricking you into revealing sensitive data or performing acts that you wouldn’t typically do. These social engineering attacks can happen while you’re on your computer or other mobile devices. The goal of the hacker is to get you to download or install their malware into your system.

Common social engineering tactics used by hackers to infect computer systems include phishing emails, games, and phone calls. 

Ways to Protect Yourself From Malware Attacks

Speaking of protecting your organisation from ransomware attacks and other malware attacks, here are ways you can protect your organisation and business from malicious software and other cyber attacks.

1. Use Anti-Malware or Anti-Virus Software

Using up-to-date and trusted antivirus software is a no-brainer especially if you have data that you don’t want to be accessed or stolen by unauthorised parties. 

Good antivirus software will detect and remove malware from your system before damage is done. 

2. Update Your System Regularly 

Keeping your system and software up-to-date ensures that you are well-protected from attacks. The security patches that come with updates will ensure that your protection can withstand new tricks hackers have up their sleeves.

3. Use Strong Passwords

Having one or two passwords for all your accounts is convenient. However, it doesn’t protect you from malware infection. Therefore, ensure that you have multiple passwords for your accounts and find a creative way to remember them, or store them in a safe place. 

You can also enable two-factor authentication for an added layer of security. 

4. Be Cautious of Links

Whether you’re on your mobile device or computer, avoid clicking links you’re 100% sure of. We’ve seen that infected files and links are some common ways hackers spread viruses and other malware types. 

Therefore, unless you know the sender of an email, avoid clicking any links in it or downloading any attachments. This also applies to when you’re browsing the internet. 

5. Train Your Employees 

Hackers are getting smarter and more aggressive by the minute. Therefore, educating yourself and your employees on how to detect and avoid any malware threat is more critical than ever. This should be in addition to using good security software.

We also recommend implementing a cybersecurity policy that ensures everyone in your organisation is aware of malware threats and takes steps to prevent them. You could also have a department that deals with malware removal and infected computers in case of a successful attack. 

Final Thoughts

Understanding malware allows you to protect yourself and your organisation from attacks. The main types of malware to watch out for include viruses, trojans, and worms.

Whether you are on your mobile device or computer, avoid opening links and attachments from unknown emails, using weak passwords, and installing software you’re unsure of. Also, ensure that your software is up to date to prevent security vulnerabilities that can attract hackers.

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