What is Malware?

By 2nd August 2021Blog

Malware is the collective name for a range of malicious software variants, including viruses, ransomware, and spyware. Malware is a portmanteau of ‘malicious’ and ‘software’, and typically contains code developed by cybercriminals to cause extensive damage to date and systems, or to illicitly gain access to a network.

Malware, which according to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), is up by 51 per cent over the past 12 months,  is typically delivered in the form of a link or file over email and requires the user to click on the link or open the file to execute the malware.

Malware has been posing a threat to individuals and organisations since the early 1970s when the first Creeper virus was first detected, and since then the world has been under attack from hundreds of thousands of different malware variants, all intent on causing disruption and damage.


What Can Malware Do?

Malware delivers its payload in several different ways. From demanding a ransom to stealing sensitive personal data, cybercriminals are becoming more and more sophisticated in their methods. The following is a list of some of the more common malware types and definitions:



The most common type of malware, a virus attaches its malicious code to clean code and then waits for an unsuspecting user or an automated process to launch them. Much like their biological namesake, viruses can spread quickly and widely, causing a lot of damage.



Worms get their name from the way they infect systems. Starting from one infected machine, they weave their way through the network, connecting to consecutive machines to continue the spread of infection. This type of malware can infect entire networks of devices very quickly.



As its name suggests, spyware is designed to spy on what a user is doing. It hides in the background and collects information such as credit card details, passwords and other sensitive information without the user being aware.



Named after the Greek soldiers who hid in a giant wooden horse to launch their attack, this malware disguises itself as legitimate software, and will discretely breach security by creating backdoors for other malware variants to gain easy access.



Also known as scare-ware, ransomware comes with a heavy price. It can lock down networks and lockout users until a ransom is paid, ransomware has targeted some of the biggest organisations in the world today — with expensive results.


How Does Malware Spread?

Each type of malware will have its own unique way of causing damage, and most rely on user action of some kind. Some strains are delivered over email via a link or executable file. Others are delivered via instant messaging or social media. Organisations must be aware of all vulnerabilities so they can lay down an effective line of defence.


How to Protect Against Malware

There are two areas to consider where protection is concerned: protective tools and user vigilance. Best-in-class protective software is easy to implement, but users are a different matter, and require education to be able to spot malware prompts so they do not open malicious email attachments or visit spurious websites.

With good use policies in place and the right anti-malware products constantly monitoring the network, email, and other activities that could place your organisation at risk, malware has less of an opportunity to deliver its malicious payload.


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