What is Malware?

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definition of malware, infect PC, malware infection, malware attack

We use the term malware to describe a large number of online threats. It’s a contraction of “malicious software” – any piece of code that was written by cybercriminals with ill intent. That’s the definition of malware for you. Hackers use it to steal personal data (like bank account numbers), interrupt processes, damage hardware, and more.

Sometimes, it is used as a weapon in wars between corporations and even world governments. But mostly, hackers create malware to make money (either by stealing user credentials or selling it on the Dark Web). There are many different types of malware, including spyware, ransomware, Trojans, and viruses.

Interesting fact: malware isn’t always causing, let’s say, direct damage to the user. For example, some companies/software developers install rootkits into user devices and gather information on their habits. During the CD era, Sony was caught in the act of doing exactly this. 

These days, numerous websites do the same in an attempt to learn what movies, music, or video games you like. It’s also worth mentioning that in some cases, this type of “harmless malware” is known to create security vulnerabilities. That, in turn, can lead to a real malware attack once the criminals discover these security holes.

What is the Purpose of Malware?

Now that we know the basics of malware programs, it’s time to take a quick look at its most common types. And, we’ll also answer the most critical question – how does malware work?

  • Ransomware: By encrypting files on the user’s computer, this type of malware demands a ransom. When refused, hackers erase sensitive data or even the entire OS.
  • Spyware: Just like the name suggests, spyware is mostly used to, well, spy on your activity. It is quite successful at stealing credit card numbers, logins, passwords, and more. 
  • Adware: While the experts don’t always include adware in the list of malicious software, it’s still considered to be malware. First of all, nobody likes aggressive ads. Secondly, adware is known to weaken security.
  • Trojans: By masking itself as legit software, a Trojan infiltrates the security lines and causes a lot of damage. It creates so-called “backdoors”, allowing hackers easy access.
  • Worms: Network interfaces can sometimes be the weakest link, and worms use them to infect large device networks.
  • Viruses: Much like real-world viruses, the virtual ones “stick” to harmless files and launch the process of infection. Computer viruses corrupt and/or destroy data and usually look like .exe files.
  • Botnets: This term is used to describe an entire network of infected devices that are controlled by one single person (a hacker).
definition of malware, infect PC, malware infection, malware attack

How Do You Get Malware on Your Computer?

Through malicious websites

Malware exploits vulnerabilities in the OS/software code to infect a user’s computer. These vulnerabilities are like “secret backdoors” that hackers use for access to infect PC and other devices. Numerous malicious websites make it easier for cybercriminals to carry out successful attacks. Even if you’re not dealing with a malicious website, chances are, the criminals have compromised it.

The best way to battle this is to keep up with the latest security updates. It is true not only for the Windows OS but also for all the other leading platforms (both desktop and mobile). These days, it’s very important to have auto-updates enabled. That’s because new threats emerge every single day.

By opening spam emails

Hackers use all kinds of tricks to make a user believe he/she is dealing with a legit file. They mask malware, make it look like harmless software, and when you download it, your device gets infected. We’re talking about email attachments – .exe, .doc, .pdf, and other extensions. The most common types of attachments are receipts, invoices, and taxes.

The second you click on a malicious file, it automatically launches installation that can’t be interrupted. Make sure to check the email address before you open any attachments. Plus, keep your eye on bad spelling: sometimes, the hackers write emails with mistakes. More advanced criminals make it look like it is mail from someone you know or a famous company.

It’s not rare for malware to hack dozens of legit accounts and send out a malicious email to all of their contacts. To learn more about this, visit https://support.microsoft.com. Summing up:

  • Don’t ever open an email unless you’re 100% sure it’s from a real person.
  • If the email is urging you to follow a link, don’t do what it says.
  • Finally, don’t open attachments that you weren’t necessarily expecting.

Through infected removable drives

External hard drives, SSDs, and USB flash drives can also infect your computer. Many types of worms use external drives to migrate from one device to another. The second you connect, say, a flash drive, the malware will automatically install itself on the PC. In some cases, they can even “jump” from one device in a connected network to another.

The most effective remedy against this is disabling the Autorun function (in the Windows OS, for example). That will prevent any .exe files from automatically starting installation. Running a full scan of removable drives will also make sure there are no hidden dangers inside of those drives.

By installing legit software

Certain types of malicious programs are installed simultaneously with other (legit) programs that you get from the web. Most commonly, this happens with software downloaded from third-party sites. Files downloaded/shared through the P2P (peer-to-peer) protocol are also a potential threat. You’ve probably had to deal with extras such as toolbars or browser extensions.

They automatically install themselves and are sometimes tricky to uninstall. A quick fact: keygens (software that generates keys) often come bundled with different types of malware. Avoid this by only downloading software from known websites and never go through with installation unless you’re happy with what you’re installing.

Does malware affect Macs?

definition of malware, infect PC, malware infection, malware attack

Compared to Windows-run personal computers, Mac systems are significantly more secure. The biggest reason – macOS is not nearly as popular as Windows, and that is precisely why malware is mostly written for the Microsoft OS. However, according to Macworld, that doesn’t mean that Mac users are 100% protected from any outside threats.

Malware infection is a strong possibility with Macs. For a very long time, macOS had been considered to be the most protected OS. Sadly, in the last couple of years, the situation has changed. Here are some numbers for you: in 2017, Mac malware grew by 270%. Last year, the increase of Mac-exclusive malware was equally impressive.

Furthermore, in early 2019, Mac malware was twice included in the list of the most frequent attacks. These days, this platform is more popular than ever, and that’s exactly why it’s being targeted more often. On top of that, there are new threats that target all the popular platforms (including Android and iOS).

We’re talking about adware, spyware, ransomware, phishing attacks, hijacking malware, and keyloggers. Cryptocurrency is a prime target as well, especially on the macOS. With that said, Macs are still highly secure, mainly because the OS is based on Unix (which comes with many built-in security measures).

And, the Apple team has developed a large number of security features and tools that further improve this system’s defenses. It’s a challenge to penetrate Macs, thanks to the Gatekeeper. It instantly blocks any piece of software that isn’t approved by the company’s specialists.

What is the best anti-malware for Mac?

  • Kaspersky. Known as one of the most effective and feature-packed anti-malware suites, Kaspersky is a can’t-go-wrong-with pick for your Mac device. It offers an impressive list of extras, full customer support, and constant updates for macOS. Plus, Kaspersky is also competitively-priced, meaning you can get industry-leading security for a reasonable price.
  • Bitdefender. Here we have another solid choice for protecting your Mac-run computer. Unlike numerous antivirus programs that are excellent for Windows protection but are average at best for Macs, Bitdefender is equally capable of protecting both systems.
  • TotalAV. If you’re looking for multi-layer protection, a capable free edition, and a long list of extras, TotalAV will be right up your alley. Right now, it’s the #1 anti-malware solution for the macOS, according to many international experts. The company constantly introduces discounts and incentives, making it an even better choice than Kaspersky.

How to Prevent Malware

definition of malware, infect PC, malware infection, malware attack

As we’ve learned today, modern-day devices are under a constant threat. Although technology is evolving at a rapid pace, malware is still a force to be reckoned with. Sensitive data and credentials – that’s what the hackers are after, and unless you’re properly protected, your device will get infected sooner or later.

To protect logins, passwords, and personal data, you’ll need a leading antivirus solution. We’ve gathered a list of the most capable offers on the market and are happy to share it with our readers. For improving security and keeping the attackers at bay, these products are the best.

  • Avast. While this software might not be as advanced as, say, Kaspersky, Avast is still an excellent pick. It comes with a stand-out free edition that’s equally feature-packed and strong against modern-day malware. If you’re looking for an affordable and easy-to-use solution, it will be worth your attention. Avast regularly makes it into the top-10 of the most popular antivirus products on the market.
  • Kasperksy. We briefly mentioned this program as one of the obvious leaders. To add to that, Kaspersky includes a powerful VPN, offers several attractive plans to choose from, and many useful extras. Data Shredder, Password Manager, parental controls, email protection – those are just some of the Kaspersky features. With approximately 400 million users around the globe, it is a top-3 antivirus with the best protection algorithms.
  • Norton. Founded almost three decades ago (in 1982, to be exact), Symantec is a respected and well-known company. And Norton is their most famous and successful product to date. In third-party lab tests, it proves to be a reliable and highly secure solution. Add advanced email protection, cloud-based storage, and fully automated updates, and you’ll see why Norton is on this list. One last thing: it offers a generous 60-day money-back guarantee.
  • TotalAV. In contrast to most leading antiviruses, TotalAV is relatively new. However, it’s equally user-friendly, easy to navigate, strong against online threats, and competitive in terms of pricing. It’s equally impressive on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, and has a very low system impact. As we said earlier, it’s the best choice for a Mac user, and it’s just as good for the Windows OS.
  • Bitdefender. Not much to add to the previous description. Bitdefender is on par with Kaspersky, Norton, and TotalAV, which means it doesn’t have any weak sides and is an all-around solid program. Compared to the rivals, it’s similarly affordable, friendly, feature-packed, and forward-thinking. And with outstanding lab test scores, banking protection, and a gaming mode, it’s a good deal for any user.
  • McAfee. Protection for all four major platforms, decent third-party test scores, and leading anti-phishing protection – that’s McAfee in a nutshell. While it’s not as impressive against malware as Bitdefender and Kaspersky, none of those products cover Win, Mac, Android, and iOS devices with the entry-level packages.

That’s it for our list of the best antivirus solutions for modern-day users. You can go with any of the six programs we mentioned above – they’re all worth every single penny you pay for them.