Every time you’re online, whether watching funny cat videos on YouTube or sending emails to your clients, you’re exposed to malware to some extent. Malware, or ‘malicious codes,’ refers to an attack technique used by hackers to infiltrate devices and steal the data stored.
To get past your radar, the attackers take advantage of the trending news in the world to disguise their malware – the most recent topic being the Covid pandemic.
The rise in Covid-related malware
Since the announcement of coronavirus as a global pandemic, the cybersecurity industry has had the busiest time in history. Attackers globally have come up with numerous strings of Covid-related malware, which, if you’re not careful, you might fall victim to.
Among the most popular of these attacks include:
- Contact tracing and tracking apps – With governments and citizens looking to control the spread of coronavirus, attackers are taking advantage of this situation to develop their fake contact tracing apps and tracking maps with malware to steal user data. Downloading any of these apps infects your device with malware.
- Phishing emails – Security experts have identified millions of Covid-themed phishing emails with malicious attachments targeting residents in the Corona hotbeds. Once you open the attachment, the malware is downloaded to your device.
- Attacks on remote workers – For the millions of people now working from home, cybercriminals are also getting smarter in how they send you malware. Most recently, the attackers have been deploying multiple fake VPNs that install malware on your devices if you download them.
- Attack on health workers and researchers – Despite the critical jobs health workers and researchers are doing to help contain Covid, cyber attackers are now exploiting this industry with ransomware.
These are, but a few of the many malware attacks hackers try each day. However, not all malware is the same. Some malware can cause more damage than others. That’s why the first step to protecting yourself online during these trying times is understanding the different types of malware.
Types of Malware
The most commonly used malware by hackers include:
A virus is a type of malicious code that infects a system and attaches itself to any executable file. It spreads through file sharing, whether via hardware devices like USB disks, internet downloads, or through a computer network connection.
The virus is activated once you open the file containing the code – but in most cases, it remains dormant until it spreads to a substantial number of devices. Viruses can slow down your computer, modify some of your data, and even install other malware to cause further damage.
Worms are just like viruses. They attach themselves to a file and spread from one device to another. However, worms are more lethal due to their self-replicating abilities. This means they spread without the help of the user and can attach themselves to any existing program.
The worm multiplies itself across several files and exploits any vulnerabilities it finds to spread through your network connections. It can also erase all your files, and act as a backdoor for other malicious programs to penetrate your system.
Spyware is other commonly used forms of malware. It refers to spying software, which ‘spy’ and monitor all your activities then sends the report back to the developer. Hackers use spyware to collect most of your personal details, including your passwords, credit card info, social security number, etc.
All this collected data can be used for identity thefts and data leakage for your business.
Trojans or the ‘disguise’ malware refers to pieces of codes and software that parade as legitimate files and apps but are destructive once in your system. Since they are hidden, detecting trojans can be a bit hard even for users with antivirus and firewalls.
Once in your system, the trojans lie and wait for the user to execute the infected programs and files. It can then spy on you, collect, and wipe out your data.
Trojans are also culprits for opening backdoors for hackers to send more malware into your system.
With ransomware, the hackers encrypt the infected computer denying the owner access rights to their files unless they pay a ransom. If you fail to pay the ransom, the hacker can choose to wipe out all your data or publish it in the public domain.
Most of these attacks come through clicking malicious links over spam emails. The malware requires just a few minutes, and it’ll take control of your system. Most attackers ask for payment through cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
Adware is another form of malware that infiltrates your system when downloading programs from ‘sketchy’ sites. It’s simply a program that runs advertisements on your computer, enabling the hackers to make money from it.
In most cases, the adware is created by advertisers and is harmless on your system, besides the irritating ads.
Some hackers also use web bots to complete most repetitive tasks, take control of numerous computer systems, and form a ‘bot network.’ This malware can do more than just steal your logins and personal information. Hackers can use it to launch DDOS attacks on any server, conduct brute force attacks for passwords, and open backdoors for other viruses.
If your computer gets infected by one of these viruses, you can lose everything you’ve stored in an instant. That’s why you need to take proper caution.
How to protect yourself against Malware
It is therefore crucial that you step up to protect your device from malware. Let’s look at some of the most effective methods.
1. Keep your PC software up to date
Most malware uses the security vulnerabilities left by outdated software versions to attack and steal data. Updating your operating system, browsers, and other software patches as soon as they’re released eliminates these loopholes. If you keep forgetting, ensure your auto-updates are on.
2. Activate your firewall
Your firewall is the watchman of all incoming connections to your PC. It monitors all incoming connections and blocks out anything that appears to be malicious. Therefore, ensure that the firewall is never disabled.
3. Install a well-known antivirus
An antivirus is your best line of defense against any malware. It conducts real-time scans looking for any hidden malware in your files and gets rid of them. However, this has to be a good and proven antivirus in the market. Some of the free antiviruses out there can’t detect most of the newer malware strains.
You also have to ensure that your antivirus is always up to date.
4. Practice good email habits
When going through your emails, you have to be extra careful with the attachments you open and the links you click. First, scan through all your mails and determine any suspicious or spam emails. If you don’t know the sender, never open the email or link. Trash it immediately!
5. Be careful with your downloads
Before clicking that download button, double-check the developer of any software or file you want to install. Only work with verified and trustworthy sources and avoid downloading cracked software versions.
With the Covid pandemic still raging on in different parts of the world, the possibility of even more malware strains surfacing on the internet is still high. Therefore, stay alert each time you’re online and always incorporate the above tips in your security to remain safe.