What Is Malware?

We are often asked, what is the difference between the various terms used to describe harmful computer programs? What is the difference from a virus, worm, malware etc.? Here we will try to clarify the use of the term Malware.

The word Malware is an umbrella term used to refer to a variety of forms of hostile or intrusive software, including computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, adware, scareware, rogueware, bloatware and other malicious programs. It can take the form of executable code, scripts, active content, and other software. Malware is often disguised as, or embedded in, non-malicious files. The term Malware is short for malicious software and can be any software used to disrupt a computer’s operation, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems. It is defined by its malicious intent, acting against the consent or knowledge of the computer user.

Malware is sometimes used broadly against government or corporate websites to gather guarded information, or to disrupt their operation in general. However, malware is more successfully used against individuals to gain information such as personal identification numbers or information, bank or credit card numbers, and passwords. Without protection, personal and networked computers can be at considerable risk against these threats. One way to combat these malicious attacks is use and layer various types of firewall, ant-malware software, anti-virus software, email filters, web-filters etc.

Many early infectious programs, were written as experiments or pranks. Today, malware is used by cybercriminals and governments, to steal personal, financial, or business information. More recently this malicious software has more often been designed for profit. Either the perpetrator gather information they can later sell to other cybercriminals or they can extort money from the victim. We’ve seen viruses and worms which have been designed to take control of users' computers for illicit purposes. Infected computers can be used to send email spam, host contraband data and can even be used for extortion.

Some of these programs are designed to monitor users' web browsing habits, display unsolicited advertisements, or redirect users to unsolicited marketing web-sites. These spyware programs are generally installed by exploiting security holes in the operating system or browsers. They can also be packaged together with user-installed software, remember that free game or program you were enticed to download and install (next time please think twice before you click).

Next let’s take a look at Ransomware, lately one the most destructive and feared form of malware. Ransomware can infect a computer and render the computer itself or the data useless in some way, and then demand payment to reverse the damage. We all remember that annoying FBI virus, while annoying it was not destructive and easily removed. However the dreaded cryptolocker or cryptowall virus is a totally different story. This guy will encrypt your all your files making them totally unusable and only decrypt them with a payment of a substantial sum of money (restoring your data from a remote backup is the only defense). We will talk about the importance of offsite backup in another article.