What is Malware and How Can You Prevent it?
The African banking sector became a target of a recent malware attack in 2022. The hackers used HTML smuggling to conceal malicious files in fake job emails. The campaign was tracked down when an employee of an undisclosed African bank received a similar email redirecting to an illegitimate website.
Imagine if the attempted cyberattack was successful. It could’ve destroyed the entire African banking industry.
Cybercrimes like these often incorporate malware attacks.
But what is malware and how can you prevent it?
Read on to discover the malware definition, objectives, types, and detection and prevention measures.
What is Malware, and What are its Objectives?
Malware is an umbrella term for any type of ‘malicious software.’ It’s solely created to access, exploit, or harm devices, networks, or systems.
So, what is a malware attack?
A malware attack is a type of cyberattack where cybercriminals use malware to achieve nefarious goals. They typically steal any data they can exploit, like passwords, personally identifiable information, financial records, and other critical files.
Hackers conducting malicious software attacks intend to access computers, servers, networks, or infrastructure without end-users’ awareness. Like most common types of cyberattacks, criminals execute malware attacks with one ultimate goal: To make money.
Here are some common objectives of using malware:
- Exfiltration: The process of extracting data from an organization’s or individual’s device or computer without permission..
- Operation Disruption: Where an attacker directs all efforts toward disrupting the target’s operations. For example, threat actors can use malware to carry out large-scale DDoS attacks, corrupt a specific computer, or cause a system to self destruct.
- Ransom Demand: A common objective where attackers directly extort money from targets using various types of malware.
You’ll be surprised to know that some big IT firms have purchased cryptocurrencies as a preventative measure against ransomware.
Malware Attack Types
Now that you know more about malware, its definition and objectives, let’s discuss some common malware attack types. Before we dive in, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with Ransomware vs. Malware vs. Phishing to understand the fundamental differences.
- Virus: Once it infects a computer, virus malware replicates itself by altering and infecting other files with malicious code— which is very hard to remove.
- Worm: Worm malware moves from one system to another when infected files are shared and can quickly infect entire networks.
- Trojan: This malicious software disguises itself as a genuine program making it hard to detect. It carries codes and instructions that appear legitimate and typically open entry for other malware types.
- HTML smuggling: Where attackers deploy virus, ransomware, or trojan malware and other malicious scripts via an HTML file attachment inadvertently opened by the target.
- Hybrid malware: Hybrid malware is designed with two or more malware types.. For example, a bot may enter a system as a trojan, and change into a worm virus after execution. Usually, these attacks are smaller elements of a large-scale cyberattack.
- Adware: Adware stands for advertisement-supported software. The aggressive and unwanted pop-up ads you see on the internet are adware.
- Malvertising: Where attackers use genuine ads to carry malware to a target’s device.
- SEO spam malware: Malicious software that exploits a website’s good SEO reputation and modifies or creates web pages to target victims and spread malicious links. Knowing how to protect your site from SEO spam malware is therefore crucial.
- Spyware: Malware designed to infect a machine and spy on unsuspecting end-users by recording and stealing credentials, browsing search history, keystrokes, etc.
- Ransomware: Where hackers use ransom malware to infect a computer or device, and encrypt crucial data. They hold decryption keys until the victim pays ransom. Usually, they target major enterprises and government organizations to demand a handsome amount. In 2021, a total of $1.85 million was transferred to ransomware attackers.
- Scareware: A tactic typically using pop-up ads, phishing attacks or other malware to scare people into visiting malicious websites and downloading infected links.
- Malware bots: Malware bots are usually programmed to gain control over a device, send spam, access user accounts, and execute other harmful actions. Bot networks typically disguise this kind of attack traffic.
- Fileless malware: Where a hacker uses legitimate programs to attack a system with malware. This is done without relying on a file, and therefore no footprint is detected.
How to Identify Malware
You can look for the following indications to identify whether your system is infected with malware.
- Slow computer: Malware can overwhelm your system by engaging a lot of memory. This disrupts normal functioning of the CPU and makes a device sluggish and inoperable. Install a credible antivirus program to prevent malware attacks and protect your device from cyberattacks.
- Browser redirects: At times, websites redirect to non-malicious sources. But if your browser frequently redirects you to malicious websites, there could be an issue. In this case, delete all the extensions and re-install your browser.
- Infection warnings: Scareware is created and distributed to solicit money from victims. Hackers mostly use drive-by downloads to deploy such malware and send scary warnings.
- Issues with turning your computer off and on: If your computer shows unusual screens and messages while turning off and on, it might be targeted by hackers to perform malicious activities.
- Frequent pop-up ads: Adware, one of the most used malware types, works through pop-up ads. These fake ads carry malware links that infect your computer. At times, pop-up ads can be legitimate, but they still net an affiliated fee on every click.
How to Prevent Malware
Knowing how to prevent malware attacks safeguards your devices and protects your sensitive information. Here are some effective measures you can take::
- Use antivirus software: Installing credible antivirus software will regularly scan your computer to catch and eliminate numerous malware types. It’ll also get automatically updated for better security against newly created viruses.
- Implement endpoint detection and response: Endpoint detection and response (EDR) is also termed endpoint threat detection and response. It works by combining continuous real-time monitoring and endpoint data gathering. The data is then assessed to identify threat patterns.
- Patch your applications and OS regularly: With patching, all software and operating systems are updated to eliminate vulnerabilities. This ensures hackers can’t exploit any susceptible element.
- Implement access controls (least privilege and just-in-time access): Access control is an efficient technique to prevent malware attacks by regulating who can view and access a system or files. With least privilege, users are only given information required to complete their tasks. In just-in-time access, users only get access for a limited time.
- Implement application graylisting on user endpoints: A graylist contains email addresses and domain names that a spam filter can use. This helps in filtering spam emails from legitimate ones. It temporarily blocks or implements limits on whatever is added to the list before manual checking.
- Apply application allowlisting on servers: On the other hand, the allowlisting method blocks servers not appearing on a specific list.
- Backup data frequently and automatically: Backing up your data protects you against ransomware and data loss. This way, you can restore the backup file. Remember, there’s no guarantee a criminal will give you the decryption key after you pay the ransom. Restoration is quicker, cheaper, and completely reliable. Only restore data from clean backups.
How to Get Rid of Malware
So far, we’ve covered the malware definition and how to prevent malware attacks. Let’s look at ways to get rid of malware now.
- Disconnect from the internet: Staying offline prevents hackers from obtaining data from your device. Disconnect from the internet if you’re concerned about a malware infection.
- Enter safe mode: Safe mode allows your computer to only run required software after an attack. So, if malware tends to load automatically, safe mode will block that.
- Check your activity monitor for malicious applications: If you know an application is malicious, close it immediately. Check the activity monitor and see the applications working the hardest. Once detected, delete them without any delay.
- Run a malware scanner: Malware scanners can help eliminate maximum standard infections. You can download them from a trusted source to identify emerging malware, including ransomware and viruses.
- Fix your browser’s homepage: Malware often modifies your homepage. Go to your browser’s settings and verify the default homepage.
- Clear your cache: Cache is a temporary storage location so that your browser doesn’t re-download the same link. Once you’ve verified the homepage settings, clear your browser’s cache history to stop further damage.
- Remove suspicious apps and extensions: Delete apps and extensions that may be responsible for malware attacks. If you observe an attack initiated around the same time you downloaded a new app or added an extension, delete it immediately.
What to Do if Malware Persists?
If malware persists, you have no way to get rid of it other than reinstalling your operating system, applications, software, and browser. Backup your important files to an external drive first, though.
Why isn’t There a Definitive Solution to Malware?
It isn’t easy to get rid of malware because the traces of such malicious software aren’t always detected. Hackers design it in a way that it’s impossible or difficult to remove encrypted codes. Moreover, they don’t provide an uninstaller that would know where all the removable parts are.
In April 2022, the U.S. government warned that threat actors have designed tools that can hijack industrial devices. These tools allow them to scan and modify files and software. Such malware is difficult to detect with automated exploits that leave no footprints.
Malicious software attacks or malware attacks take distinct forms and cause harm in various ways. But if organizations are prepared with preventive measures like installing an antivirus, graylisting, and allowlisting, they can mitigate such threats.
Another helpful way to prevent malware attacks is regularly backing up all important and sensitive data on an external drive or another safer place.