What is Malware? - Definition and Examples

Malware (malicious software), is a blanket term for any kind of computer software with malicious intent. Most modern computer threats are malicious software.

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What is Malware and How Does It Work? - Keep Your Privacy Well

What is malware?

Malware. You heard this word and likely knew its definition. However, the majority of users can barely tell anything more. Malware is much more than just “malicious software”, as people used to describe this definition, and, in fact, not a synonym of “virus”. So how can it correctly be characterized?

It is hard to describe everything which is meant under the term malware. Of course, since it is an umbrella term for all sorts of viruses, you can easily say that it is the describing term for any unwanted software that can harm your system. And this term is likely proper, but there are still several things to say over the mentioned definition.

The transcript of this abbreviation - malicious software - gives quite a clear meaning of the whole term. However, “the program which carries danger for your system and data you store on your computer” still must be detailed. People often ignore the fact that some of the applications they use may be malicious, as these apps do not demonstrate their unwanted potential. Such applications must correctly be named as “potentially unwanted” or “potentially malicious”. Different anti-malware vendors specify the threat level for such applications, depending only on their own opinion.

Unwanted programs are not the only exclusion among the malicious software. A lot of disputes are around the programs which have the potential to be used by burglars. Various hack tools are among this category of programs. These applications can be used for legitimate actions, like getting access to the Windows account when you have lost the password. Since the same action is often done by crooks who try to hack the whole computer network, hack tools are usually detected and blocked by antiviruses, like they are currently active viruses.

Why malware exists?

Because of the wish to earn much more significant sums of money than ones made on legal jobs, people often think about the way to reach tens of thousands of dollars without doing any real job. Besides the drug dealing and casino playing, they will likely see the offer to become a virus distributor. Of course, all such requests are posted primarily on the Darknet, so both persons who offer the job and those hired keep their anonymity. Nonetheless, people are prone to make mistakes, and police departments who investigate cybercrimes will indeed find these crooks sooner or later. More than 90% of both virus creators and their assistants employed in virus distribution have been busted.

Another reason for malware’s existence is the fact that people are not very clever. They may quickly be the bait to press a specific button on the website, which leads to malware installation. The same thing with the malware injection through dubious applications: greed leads people on questionable websites for a free (hacked) version, then makes their computer full of viruses. Until such injection ways are possible, fraudsters will try to take their bite of this foolish pie.

What does malware activity look likes?

Just imagine that your CPU, GPU, and RAM became 50% less powerful. Your PC becomes slow as a snail, struggling even to open the web browser. Then, add the blinking console windows, chaotically opening the browser, or wallpaper changed on a strange picture. It is hard to describe all symptoms in one paragraph because there is a vast amount of them. But all these visible changes may be described with only three words - “something is wrong”.

In cases of ransomware injection, you will surely see that your files are encrypted, and there are a lot of money ransom notes all over the system. Stealer activity often leads to the situation when your social network accounts are used for spamming. Spyware presence, however, cannot be spotted until you scan your computer with anti-malware software.

Everything in this world is changing, and viruses, acting in the most changeful environment, must change the same fast. A lot of users wonder when someone shows the abilities of modern viruses. “Oh, they are so powerful, but I will never get one. It is likely too rare!”. Complexity became a new slogan of malware in both distribution and activity in the infected system.

Making the virus Jack of all trades is a challenging task. Malware creators who designed some easy things at the beginning of the 2000s were forced to re-qualify into legal programmers or increase their qualifications to make more tricky malware. This environment always was very competitive, and this competition was turning faster and faster when more serious anti-malware tools appeared.

Some of the viruses were kicked out from the “arena” by the changes in global technologies. While dial-up Internet connection was widespread, a specific virus was rerouting your dial-up connection through the international network. Such calls were charged at a significantly more expensive rate, so at the end of the accounting period, the “happy owner” of this dial-up modem became rather angry than happy, seeing a bill for several thousand dollars.

Known malware types

Malware comes and goes, synchronized with the conditions it uses for spreading and money generating. Some viruses are getting squeezed out by their successors, and some categories keep running after several decades. The reasons for long-liver appearance are hard to predict because computer environments change rapidly, and it is hard to keep going after all changes. Only ones who have specific distribution and money earning ways can stay active after more than ten years. However, here is the list of currently active malware:

The majority of these viruses appeared about a decade ago. Of course, they are different from their predecessors since they must deal with much more severe system security and bring more massive effects. But the main goals of these viruses were likely the same throughout the whole decade. Not all viruses were strong enough to keep going. Here is the list of virus types that have already disappeared or can be met so rare that they are equal to museum exhibits:

Virus Many people think that “virus” is an umbrella term for all applications that may be dangerous for the system. But in fact, viruses were a vast class of malware, which had their features. Computer virus, just like its analog counterpart for humans, replicates itself until the victim becomes unworkable. The virus was infecting all programs you have on your PC, and in one moment, you just see that your system resources are over.

The most practical reason for this virus to disappear is that it is hard to monetize it. While ransomware asks for a ransom payment and adware earns money for each banner view, viruses cannot bring you the money in any way.

Worm Worms are one of the eldest malware types. Morris Worm is likely known by the majority of users who have ever been interested in computer history. A worm is a type of malware that literally “eats” the programs and OS, causing its failures in the future and allowing other viruses to exploit the created “holes”.
Locker The predecessor of ransomware. This malware type locks your computer, leaving you with a scary banner that covers the screen. On that banner, you were told that some of the government organizations blocked your system for outlaw actions, and you need to pay a ransom for its unblocking. Usually, you could not skip that banner in the usual way - Ctrl+Alt+Del and Ctrl+Shift+Esc were not working. Nonetheless, some of the design flaws of that malware were used to get access to the system.

The ransomware appeared to be much more effective and profitable, so soon after 2014, when ransomware activity reached the first noticeable milestone, lockers were forgotten.
Dialer It was already mentioned in that article. This malware was spread through pornographic websites with a large number of pop-ups. While browsing one, users may click the banner and download the virus. Then, he/she was spectating a lot of pop-ups that offered to set up something. Among these pop-ups, a re-dial window appeared, but the user likely skipped it, missing its contents. The virus re-dialed you on the international connection, which cost much more than the usual dial-up. You will probably have a ton of destructive emotions seeing the Internet bill for $2000-2500.
Rogue Rogue software is a controversial thing. Some call it full-size malware. Others say that it’s instead a PUA than a virus. The GridinSoft team tends to believe that rogue is instead a potentially unwanted program. This malware looks like a legit program until you install it and let it interact with your system. If it mimics the antivirus software (the most common case), it will start notifying you about dozens of various malicious programs running on your computer. Some of the programs may just block your desktop, just like locker malware.

You are not able to remove the rogue software in the usual way. It is not listed in any of the lists of installed software you used to check. Moreover, the rogue has no uninstallation file in its root directory. The problem that led this malware to disappear is that it is much less profitable than “classic” viruses. Nowadays, you may meet such rogue examples as sAntivirus or SAproduct - in fact, the identical product from the same developer with a different name.

How can I protect my computer from malware?

You may see a lot of different advice on the Internet. Some of them may be useful, but most “advisers” are just laymen who do not know a lot about cybersecurity. Tips like “change the certain registry key” or “unmark the certain setting in the Group Policies” bring you any tangible result. Of course, you are free to follow any advice which looks legitimate and effective, regardless of who gives you this advice. But, like it constantly happens with amateurs, consequences may be terrible.

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