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Threat Assessment

News > Threat Assessment

Threat Assessment

 

An overview of the most common types of malware.

 

High-profile, large-scale cyberattacks, like the ones on Sony and Target in recent years, are relatively rare. But that’s not to suggest that cybercriminals don’t enjoy many victories. If you follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, you know that keeping up with the latest malware threats requires constant vigilance.

It also helps to understand some of the terminology. “Malware,” for example, isn’t one thing. The word refers to a range of malicious (mal-) software (-ware) types, each of which can be altered slightly to perform different functions or evade security programs. In 2015 alone, there were 84 million new malware variations, according to one estimate.

Malware seems to have replaced “virus” as the catch-all term most people use for anything that infects and messes with a computer or network. And that makes sense, because a virus has a trait that not all malware has: it can replicate itself and spread by attaching to existing, legitimate documents or applications. Once inside, it might do any number of things, interfering with operations or quietly skimming information and reporting it back to the hacker who wrote (or bought) the code. The latter type is called spyware.

A worm is like a virus, with an additional feature: it can spread on its own, without piggybacking on something else. When you receive a spammy-looking email from a colleague’s real address, that person’s account has probably been infiltrated by a worm programmed to write and send an email to every contact. In 2009, a worm called Stuxnet was written to quietly jump from network to network around the world, doing absolutely nothing until it reached its intended target, an Iranian nuclear facility. That’s state-level hacking, of course, but it shows what’s possible.

A trojan, the most common type of malware, sneaks into your system by hiding within something else, like a software update (Adobe Flash Player has been plagued by trojans for years) or an email attachment. Ransomware is usually spread this way.

PUPs, or potentially unwanted programs, sneak onto your PC or device when you download something you do want, like a free app. PUPs aren’t necessarily malicious, but they can suck up space and slow down your system. We highly recommend downloading only from known, trusted sources.

Malware that doesn’t make its presence known immediately, like ransomware does, can be difficult to detect. Symptoms can include system slowdowns, crashes, connection problems, the sudden appearance of files or icons you don’t recognize or changes in software settings. If you’re experiencing these or other unexplained issues, or just want to know how to protect your network, contact us at 866-242-2775. Our partner Fortinet, a leader in network security, offers free, on-site vulnerability assessments.