Malware is a generic term, referring to any program that can threaten the security of your computer. There are many different types of malware, including Trojan horses, keystroke loggers, hack tools, ransomware, spyware, and worms. Sometimes, these are combined to form ‘hybrid malware’, showing characteristics from two or more types.
Though often used in conversation as a synonym for ‘virus,’ malware is an abbreviated term that means ‘malicious software.’ The word can be used, therefore, to refer to just about any virtual threat designed to harm your computer. Malware can range from full-fledged malicious programs to malicious lines of code.
The Purposes of Malware
The internet has become more dominant in our lives today than at any point in prior history. The growth of malware creation has mirrored the growth of the internet as a whole. With more potential victims surfing the web at any given time, hackers and other cyber criminals have more incentive to create malware.
For these cyber criminals, malware often serves as an aid to illegal activity. In some cases, malicious software is employed to vandalize and damage computer systems. If you are average internet user, it is more likely that you will encounter malware that was built with the goal of making someone money. For example, adware, one example of modern malware, spams users with a huge number of ads. Spyware and keyloggers, on the other hand, are used largely to steal private, sensitive information like credit card numbers and social security numbers.
One form of malware that has been especially popular lately, ransomware, tries an even more direct approach to making hackers money. Ransomware essentially locks up your computer and makes it impossible for you to access your files or programs. The malware then gives victims an option to pay a fee to unlock their machines. In other words, these programs are extorting money directly from victims, instead of trying to steal identity information or serve up forced advertising.
How to Stop Malware
There are two real ways to protect yourself against malware. The first, of course, is to install malware protection on your computer. Most antivirus software includes anti-malware tools, including features to scan new downloads and make sure they aren’t concealing malicious software or code. Antivirus programs will also scan your computer not just for viruses, but for any type of malware, with the goal of spotting dangerous software before it damages your computer or steals personal information.
The second protective measure is to be on your guard consistently when you are using the web. If you don’t trust a website, don’t visit it. If you receive an email from someone that you don’t know or trust, don’t open it. If a friend sends you a spammy message with an unexplained URL, either on social media or through email, realize that they have probably been hacked and that the link isn’t safe. Threats are everywhere online these days, but being smart and conscientious in how you use the internet will allow you to dodge the vast majority of those threats.